A healthy diet is one of the best prescriptions for growing kids, and now Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia has a pharmacy for it.
CHOP announced Wednesday the official opening of the Healthy Weight Food Pharmacy, a food bank and education unit based in the hospital’s childhood nutrition and anti-obesity program. Funded in part with a nearly $174,000 grant from Giant Food Stores, the pharmacy is the newest effort by the West Philadelphia hospital to address food insecurity — the shortage of adequate nutrition estimated to affect one in five Philadelphians.
“Families who indicate that they experience food insecurity will be able to leave this office with healthy perishable and nonperishable food,” said Doug Hock, chief operating officer at CHOP. “They will also be given resources so they can access healthy food on a regular basis.”
The program will screen patient families to see if they are experiencing food insecurity. If they are, they will be referred to the Food Pharmacy for a free three-day supply of food, including fresh produce and canned goods. In addition, they will be connected to community food resources and nutrition education. They will also be eligible for more food if needed.
Saba Kahn, the pediatrician in charge of the new effort, said the pharmacy unofficially launched in September and has already distributed about 1,800 pounds of food to about 100 patients and their family members. Kahn said the hope is to expand the program eventually to other CHOP locations.
CHOP is not the only health system to treat hunger as a chronic condition. St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children began screening its families for insecurities several years ago, and offers prescriptions for food discounts from its highly reduced-price boxes of produce.
Brooke Belle, a Southwest Philadelphia mother of four, was present at Wednesday’s opening ceremony. Two of her children are in the Healthy Weight Program, but she said her whole family has benefited. Though many people think an overweight child is a well-fed child, obesity can be a sign of poor nutrition, experts say.
“What they offer is not a temporary fix,” said Belle. “It is a lifestyle change — a lifestyle change that my entire family embraces.”
That doesn’t mean her family doesn’t struggle. Belle, 40, said she was working on her master’s degree before she had a stroke, and her husband was a custodian for city schools before he was diagnosed with cancer and then congestive heart failure.
The city schools provide Belle’s kids with breakfast and lunch, but she said they often can’t eat the food because of allergies. With the less than $550 a month in federal food benefits they receive to feed their family of six, she said, they can usually afford to prepare one meal a day. She said she tries to not think too much about what will happen if the partial federal government shutdown doesn’t end soon and the food benefits program is further affected.
As it is, “I’ll go without meals now so the kids can eat,” said Belle.
Belle said the food from CHOP and the support from the Healthy Weight Program has helped in more ways than she imagined. “It actually shows that people care,” she said.