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Healthy Food Access May Foster Better Diabetes Management

Study cites pantries as beneficial point of intervention for low-income population.

Diabetes patients who live at a low-income level typically lack the education and nutrition to control their condition. One of the risk factors for poor diabetes control is food insecurity, which can lead to hunger due to the inability to afford healthy food. To help offset this issue, food pantries can serve as a place of provision to fight against hunger.

A pilot study by UC San Francisco and Feeding America was initiated to determine whether healthy food could help low-income people to better control their diabetes. Researchers conducted this study by tracking 687 food pantry clients who had diabetes in California, Texas and Ohio from February 2012 to March 2014.

Food banks and pantries involved in this study delivered healthy food consistently to people with the diet-sensitive disorder. There were four components included in the intervention: screening for diabetes, the provision of diabetes-appropriate food, helping clients to find primary care providers, and providing diabetes education and support. Over 80 percent of participants were satisfied with the diabetes food, eating all or most of it.

The results showed better glycemic control and good medication adherence in participants. HbA1c improved from 9.52 percent to 9.04 percent, which could lower patients’ risk of diabetes complications.

Policy makers should consider ways to leverage food bank assets, said the study authors, when designing public health interventions for people with diet-sensitive chronic diseases such as diabetes.

“The healthy food that a food bank can provide is a cornerstone of good diabetes management.” said first author Hilary Seligman. Good food provided in food banks definitely could improve public health.

Practice Pearls:

  • A pilot study of low-income diabetes patients with food insecurity showed the patients are likely to better control their glycemic level by receiving healthier food through food banks.
  • The results showed better glycemic control and good medication adherence in participants.
  • Food banks not only could help people fight for hunger, but could also improve public health by providing healthy food.

H. K. Seligman, C. Lyles, M. B. Marshall, K. Prendergast, M. C. Smith, A. Headings, G. Bradshaw, S. Rosenmoss, E. Waxman. “A Pilot Food Bank Intervention Featuring Diabetes-Appropriate Food Improved Glycemic Control Among Clients In Three States. Health Affairs.” 2015; 34 (11).