WHEELING — Wheeling Health Right has begun its third year of “Farmacy” on the clinic’s grounds at 61 29th St.
The Farmacy is open to Wheeling Health Right clients from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursdays. The “prescriptions for produce” program has yielded positive health outcomes for patients living with chronic illness.
Studies show diets high in less-expensive, calorie-laden fatty meats and processed foods and low in fresh fruits and vegetables contribute to obesity, diabetes and heart disease, among other health problems.
Wheeling Health Right launched Farmacy to introduce fresh produce as the mainstay of a healthy diet and lifestyle. Clinic officials said West Virginia has an obesity rate of 35.7 percent; a diabetes rate of 14.1 percent; and a hypertension rate of 41 percent. The clinic has conducted pre-diabetes and diabetes education groups featuring lifestyle factors that help manage the disease, or in some cases, stop its progression.
Wheeling Health Right Executive Director Kathie Brown said residents who live in lower socioeconomic status levels as the clinic’s patients do suffer from illness more often than their middle-class counterparts. Economic challenges are compounded when these patients don’t have access to medical care that is necessary to treat the results of an unhealthy lifestyle.
“It’s simply expensive to eat healthy,” Brown said. “As families in our community struggle to afford basic living expenses, they find fresh fruits and vegetables are luxuries.”
To address these nutritional deficits, Wheeling Health Right’s health care providers launched Farmacy in 2016. “Prescriptions for produce” encourage healthier nutritional profiles for these low-income patients who have been diagnosed with chronic illness.
Farmacy provides education and access to healthy foods through a series of classes that offer discussions and hands-on activities about food, nutrition and cooking. These efforts are in addition to the educational groups that address disease management. The second year of Farmacy produced dramatic laboratory results, with an average of 70 percent reduction in hemoglobin A1C, the lab marker for high blood sugar levels.
Wheeling Health Right has partnered with Grow Ohio Valley to offer patients who cannot otherwise afford fresh, organic produce in an effort to improve their overall health and help manage their chronic diseases. The West Virginia University extension office provides onsite cooking tips and recipes to help patients learn diverse ways to prepare their produce. West Virginia Northern Community College’s culinary arts program holds healthy cooking classes at the college’s culinary complex.
Brown said Farmacy is a health-based medical program and not simply a food giveaway.
“We select eligible patients who are willing to complete the program and who receive a weekly prescription for produce which acts as a voucher the patient redeems for produce with Grow Ohio Valley,” she said. “That’s only the first step in the program.”
Health Right providers track health indicators (weight, blood glucose, lipids and overall well-being) over the course of Farmacy. By tracking this biometric data, participants and program staff can witness the positive health changes associated with a healthier diet and increased access to healthy foods.
Brown said she hopes the lessons learned and good habits gained from this program will ensure that this group of participants will sustain their own healthy eating program.
“We have noted an increase in participants’ employability and job status along with their improved health outcomes,” she said. “The reduction in illness and increase in overall well-being have transformed their lives.”
For details about Wheeling Health Right programs, call 304-233-9323.