Health of the City: The Food Farmacy is combatting food insecurity

Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health’s Food Farmacy program is paving the way to decrease food insecurity and increase access to healthy food and nutrition education in Lancaster County.

Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health’s Food Farmacy program is paving the way to decrease food insecurity and increase access to healthy food and nutrition education in Lancaster County.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, food insecurity, or the lack of access to enough food to live an active and healthy life, had been declining for over a decade. Before March 2020, 9 percent of Lancaster County residents were considered food insecure. However, according to Feeding America, that percentage rose to 11.9 percent in 2020 and is projected to reach 10.2 percent for 2021.

Although Lancaster County is home to many food-assistance organizations, food security is more than just having a sufficient quantity of food—it’s also essential for individuals to have access to healthy foods that support their individual dietary needs.

Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health knows that access to nutritious food is a fundamental need for people to lead a healthy life, and the ongoing effort to source healthy food within the emergency food system is crucial. That’s why the health system has launched the Food Farmacy program in collaboration with a growing list of food pantry partners throughout Lancaster County.

The Lancaster County Food Farmacy integrates access to healthy food and nutrition education into the care plan for food-insecure patients with nutrition-related conditions like metabolic syndrome and prediabetes. A Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health registered dietitian meets with patients at participating food pantries and provides them with nutrition counseling and healthy food for them and their families.

“A healthy diet is one of the most important factors in protecting against preventable chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer,” says Laura Rodgers, MS, RD, LDN. Rodgers is the manager of Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health’s new Food is Medicine initiative that is aimed at addressing the barriers to healthy eating in Lancaster County, particularly for low-income, food-insecure individuals and families with programs like the Food Farmacy. “We have seen that the nutrition-counseling services along with the healthy food provided by this program help patients learn how to manage their nutrition-related conditions and improve their overall health by implementing healthy diet and lifestyle changes.”

Rodgers says that many patients who have participated in the Food Farmacy program are reporting less food insecurity and experiencing improved biometrics, including a reduction in body mass index, hemoglobin A1C, and blood pressure.

The Food Farmacy has locations in high-need areas throughout Lancaster County including Lancaster City, Quarryville, and Paradise, with additional Food Farmacy locations planned for Columbia and Elizabethtown. Encouraging more food pantries and community meal providers to adopt nutrition policies with the help of the Food Farmacy team will increase the availability of healthy food to residents.

“Patients, providers, and pantry partners have had nothing but positive feedback for the Food Farmacy program,” Rodgers says. “Without [our pantry partners’] dedication to serving the community, this program would not be possible. We cannot thank them enough for all that they do!”

To learn more about the Food is Medicine initiative and the Food Farmacy program, please call 717-544-3811 and ask for a member of our team.

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