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Duke Healthy Lifestyles Market helps feed kids and families experiencing food insecurity

Sunday, September 6, 2020
By Sarah Armstrong, MD
Sarah Armstrong, MD

Children are more likely to face food insecurity than any other group of people. Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, 11 million children did not have enough food to eat. Early reports show that due to job loss and economic downturn, that number has risen to 18 million, or 1 out of every 4 US children. Food insecurity is an important driver of health for children; limited ability to procure nutritionally adequate and safe food has been associated with negative health outcomes. Specifically, food insecurity is associated with obesity, hypertension, anxiety and depression. In addition, academic achievement is lower among children who are food insecure, and with schools closed, many are not getting the federally-subsidized breakfast and lunches, and go through the online school day hungry.

The COVID-19 pandemic coupled with the economic crisis means more people than ever are facing hunger each day.

Duke Children’s Healthy Lifestyles Clinic, a comprehensive weight management program, partnered with the Eastern and Central NC Food Bank to address this important problem.  Given the aligned missions of helping children have access to nutritious food so they can optimally grow and develop, the organizations decided to create a food pantry within the clinic, located at 4020 N Roxboro Street.

The first of its kind at Duke, the pantry was carefully planned to ensure that families are screened for food insecurity and allowed to have choice in the items selected.  Healthy Lifestyles dieticians Jenny Favret and Stephanie Bryant ensured that the food provided would help to improve the child’s health and reduce risk for chronic disease. Department and clinic administrators including Aekta Raja and Tammey Wilkerson, among others, ensured the pantry was compliant with regulations and would safely store and distribute non-perishable food to families. Food Bank and Healthy Lifestyles staff, including Lindsey Carver and Rachel Fleming, as well as Duke third year medical student Liliana Suarez, arranged deliveries, stocked the pantry, and developed a protocol for screening and delivering bags of food to families in clinic. Most importantly, the Healthy Lifestyles families selected the name for the pantry, “The Duke Healthy Lifestyles Market,” as a non-stigmatizing and welcoming addition to the clinical care for children.

In the first week, 15 bags of food were distributed to families. The Healthy Lifestyles team has funding secured to continue food delivery for three years, and hopes to identify a long-term sustainability plan for beyond that time frame. In order to track progress, the clinical team is measuring the number of patients who screen for food insecurity, the types of food they prefer, and the number of bags that are distributed. The goal of the Market is to teach families how to access food pantries around the community, and to advocate for themselves so that they feel confident in selecting items that are both nutritious and acceptable for their families.

UPDATE: Sunday, December 6, 2020

In partnership with the NC Eastern and Central Food Bank, and with funding from BCBS NC, the Duke Healthy Lifestyles program launched a clinic-based food pantry (the “Healthy Lifestyles Market”) at the Roxboro Street clinic location. All of the food items are selected by Healthy Lifestyles registered dieticians, to provide healthy balanced meals for children and adults. This is the first Private Diagnostic Clinic (PDC) food pantry at Duke, and grant funding has been secured to continue through June 2022. 

As of this month, the Healthy Lifestyles team completed a 3-month pilot of the Healthy Lifestyles Market. During this time, they screened 338 patients, and provided 163 bags of food for 652 unique individuals in those families. Families have expressed gratitude not only for the food, but also for the privacy, dignity and care that they felt in receiving food from their doctor. Healthy Lifestyles providers and nurses have said that the ability to meet families’ needs directly, in the face of all the hardships that the pandemic has created, has been very gratifying. 

At a recent meeting, partners at the NC Eastern and Central Food Bank agreed to double the monthly delivery of food items at no additional cost, allowing the Healthy Lifestyles Market to be expanded as a resource to patients and families at the primary care clinic at Roxboro St. Pediatrics resident Adam Blatt, MD, PhD, is taking the lead on the operational side which will begin January 4.