It’s a sunny Thursday morning as I set up my table, sign in sheet, and prescription box in the parking lot of Health Right Clinic, when I am immediately assaulted by the smell of grease heating up in the fry bins of the fast food restaurant (which shall remain unnamed) looming across the street. It is disheartening to say the least, but I feel that it represents the enemy that I am fighting. I go to battle each Thursday against the great American fast food industry armed with peppers, tomatoes, summer squash and green beans.
FARMacy was established to educate people about something that was long ago forgotten, that healthy food is medicine. Maybe that fact was overshadowed in part by the fast food industry. Convenient, unhealthy food permeates our culture. It is promoted by an industry that plays to the weaknesses of our society. We are all in a hurry, too busy, too stressed. Quick is better, fast is best. Why sit and eat a healthy meal when a burger and fries is so easy and accessible. Salt, fat, and sugar make up the bulk of fast foods, they also happen to be the things that humans crave. Go figure. Seems to me that we’ve all been taken for a nice long ride with the fast food industry at the wheel.
How about those late night commercials? You know, the ones that advertise pizza with lots of pepperoni, sausage, and cheese, burgers with bacon and curly fries, and ice cream with peanut butter candies oozing out of the top of the cup? What’s the consequence of watching the same fast food commercials repeatedly, hours after the chance that burning off any additional calories will arise? Most of us, unless we’ve dialed the number for the delivery pizza of our choice, have headed to the fridge or kitchen cabinet for calorie laden snacks that may be lying in wait. The fast food industry strikes again!
Adding to the amazing number of fast food establishments that exist everywhere, is the fact that West Virginia has many areas designated as “food deserts”. That designation is given to areas in over 40 counties in the state. Food deserts exist in communities with at least a 20% poverty rate (of at least a third of its population) living 1 mile from a supermarket or grocery store or ten miles away in rural areas. Why is that important? Because people living in food deserts are left without accessible fresh food, like dairy, meats, vegetables and fruits. A car or public transportation is necessary in a food desert, and for those people on a limited budget at or below the poverty level, this can be a struggle at best. And for some, an impossibility. Because of changing demographics, population shifts, and underlying economic problems, like the decline in coal and manufacturing jobs, grocery stores have been closing in the state. A grocery store closing in a small town can create a food desert situation overnight.
What’s left when the only grocery store leaves….usually the convenience store and the fast food restaurants which have always been there. Convenience stores usually stock high fat, sugar, and salty processed carbohydrates which are unhealthy for everyone, and especially for people with chronic disease, like Type II Diabetes, High blood pressure, and Heart disease. Towns with only convenience stores and fast food establishments have the highest rates of adult obesity at 32 % to 40%. This is compared to a 21% rate of adult obesity in those neighborhoods with grocery store and supermarket availability.
So, obviously it is a complicated, interwoven process which ultimately affects our vulnerable population. Choices are important for making good decisions about healthy food. IF limited choices exist then unhealthy decisions are the only ones left to be made. This explains the paradox of obesity and hunger, as well as the devastating chronic disease statistics plaguing the state of WV.
How can we change our plight? Education is number one. Healthy food affordability and accessibility is the second. Sounds easy, right? IF it was, we probably wouldn’t be where we are at this moment in time. Changing behavior is difficult, and always has been. That’s why medication is prescribed so quickly when dealing with diabetes and hypertension as well as other chronic diseases. All physicians know that lifestyle change… a healthy diet and regular exercise, is what should be initially used to treat any chronic disease, and also used in chronic disease prevention. Unfortunately, physicians also know that patients rarely, if ever, follow through with this advise, because of the innumerable issues of day to day life that affect patient decisions. Physicians also know it is easier to prescribe a pill rather than to continuously provide education. It is time consuming and difficult to do this in the course of a time constrained office visit. Often times physicians don’t know or don’t take into consideration all of the extraneous causes of why a patient doesn’t seem to comply with the healthy life style recommendations. It takes time…something most physicians don’t have .
Diabetic educators, nutritionists, nutritional programs including the DPP ( Diabetic Prevention Program for prediabetics ) from the CDC and programs from the WVU extension office should be used more often to help with basic cooking and nutritional information. Arming patients and their health care providers with as many resources as possible is essential for control of chronic disease. FARMacy WV arose out of this very need. This program can be replicated using available resources in any community.
This FARMacy WV website has been established in order to help arm both providers and patients with resources, ideas, thoughts, and practical solutions to controlling and preventing chronic disease in West Virginia. Check back frequently because additional information and ideas will be updated and posted on a regular basis. Everything from quick healthy recipes to information on how to start your own FARMacy program will be provided.
We welcome questions and suggestions, and would like to hear from you….organizations,