Food As Medicine facility opens to patients in Hartford / Public News Service

One of Connecticut’s largest health systems launched a new resource in Hartford this month, aimed at helping patients gain free access to healthy, nutritious food.

The Healthy Food Resource Center is located on the Hartford Hospital campus and is open to patients by referral from a physician. When they enter, they find a fridge and freezer, as well as fresh fruits and vegetables, many of which are locally sourced.

Dr Jessica Mullins, director of gynecology at Hartford Hospital, said it’s about treating “food like medicine”, which can help patients deal with food insecurity.

“They can try these foods, they can try different ways of cooking them and really find that it’s delicious for them or prepare it in a way that incorporates it into their cultural backgrounds,” Mullins pointed out.

Mullins reported that half of the patients she sees report being food insecure. Better nutrition is linked to better infant, child and maternal health, a stronger immune system and a lower risk of diabetes. A nutritionist is also on hand to inform you about the doctor’s recommendations.

Greg Jones, vice president of community health and engagement at Hartford Hospital, said at the center patients will find pineapple, kale, papayas, healthy cereals, olive oil and much more. He said many food-insecure communities in Hartford and elsewhere are overexposed to highly processed foods high in salt, sweeteners and saturated fat.

“By providing produce and fruit, we can help people understand the health issues they face,” Jones said. “They’re starting to feel better, they’re starting to be able to supplement their diet with real food, and then they can start to see a big improvement.”

An estimated 12% of Connecticut residents are food insecure, according to a 2019 report from Feeding America.

With a referral, patients will have access to the Center for six months. Hartford Healthcare will also keep track of the foods patients take as part of their medical records, to see how it affects their health outcomes.

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