Food as Medicine

by: Julia Hickman, La Salle University Dietetic Intern

The results are in and they are astounding; Philadelphia is sick. According to the 2015 Community Health Assessment (CHA), Philadelphia adult obesity nears 30%. Upon further inspection, there is a high correlation between lower income areas and the prevalence of obesity. 39.2% of adults residing in Upper and Lower North Philadelphia are obese, more than 10% greater than the 2015 national average of 27%. With obesity as a risk factor for hypertension and diabetes, its no surprise the prevalence of hypertension in North Philadelphia nears 40% and diabetes reaches 18%. 1

The current health care model of America focuses on preexisting conditions and prescribing medicine to “fix” the problem. Health care providers focus on reducing elevated blood sugars and pressures but the underlying problem is seldom emphasized. The link between lifestyle factors, diet and exercise is unquestionably linked to the development of chronic diseases such as diabetes and hypertension. The statement “food as medicine” is no longer a stretch of the imagination but a potential solution to the rising costs of heath care in the United States of America.

According to the US Center of Disease Control (CDC), heart disease and type 2 diabetes are two of the seven chronic diseases along with stroke, cancer, obesity, and arthritis that are the most common, costly, and preventable of all health problems. It is estimated in 2012, together approximately $245 billion American dollars were lost due to the high costs of diabetic medical bills and reduction of productivity in those with diabetes.2

The ever-growing issue of preventable chronic disease is multifaceted and attributed to a wide variety of factors. Unfortunately, fast food is fast and convenient, while buying fresh healthier options can be more expensive and time consuming.  The CHA went even further to show the high-poverty populations with the highest prevalence of diabetes and hypertension had little to no walkable access to healthy food.1 In lower income areas, with individuals of lower education levels, the link between chronic disease prevention and healthy eating may be unknown. According to the CHA, only 27.8% of adults above the age of 25 in Upper North Philadelphia have completed some college.1

Fortunately, there are organizations on the front lines within Philadelphia working to alleviate these health disparities and push America towards prevention instead of prescriptions. Uplift is one nonprofit creating sustainable access to fresh and healthy food, nutrition education, and health care to underserved communities.

Uplift connects its clients to a registered dietitian, nurse practitioner, family pharmacist, medical assistant, and community resource counselors. The dietitian is able to work one on one with clients free of cost, as well as providing diabetes classes, and shopping tours on how to buy and cook food to get the most nutrition for the lowest cost. The community resource counselors are available to help clients apply for government assistant programs like SNAP.3

While Uplift Health Solutions is in its early stages since its coming to be in 2015, the number of clients in the past two years has increased by 166% and the total interaction from shoppers has increased by 239%.3 Although Uplift Health Solutions is relatively new, the outlook is positive as its services are convenient and provide the community with a means to overcome socioeconomic disparities and improve their health.



  1. Community Health Assessment (CHA) Philadelphia, PA. Published December 2016. Accessed September 27, 2017.
  2. Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Published June 28, 2017. Accessed September 27, 2017.
  3. About. Uplift Solutions. Accessed September 27, 2017.

Post a comment