Food is Medicine

By Kate Sommerfeld, ProMedica Health System, Toledo
Hunger is a problem healthcare providers see every day among patients of all ages in emergency rooms, clinics, offices, and hospital beds. Babies born to malnourished mothers may be underweight or overweight, have developmental delays and continue to have health problems throughout life. Children experiencing food insecurity are more likely to have behavioral health issues and are at higher risk for developing chronic health conditions, like anemia and asthma.
At ProMedica—a nonprofit, locally owned healthcare system—we believe food is medicine. Driven by our mission to improve the health and well-being of the communities we serve, we are committed to addressing the issues that determine the health of communities: Healthy food access, educational opportunities, adequate housing, employment, and other social determinants of health. 
Over the past few years, we have employed a number of community and clinical-based interventions to increase access to healthy, affordable food. Most recently, we opened the ProMedica Ebeid Institute and Market on the Green, a full-service grocery store in downtown Toledo. The Market is located within a low-income area identified by the USDA as a food desert.
Market on the Green is a full-service grocery store that provides fresh and affordable produce, meats, dairy, and bakery items, with an emphasis on locally sourced products. The Market is committed to sourcing and hiring locally, and all market employees live in the neighborhood we serve. This year, the building’s second floor will be converted into a community hub where job training, nutrition education and cooking classes will be offered by local nonprofit organizations. 
The idea of a health system opening a grocery store may seem crazy, or at least, non-traditional. However, there is a clear impact on health. ProMedica worked with the Mari Gallagher Research & Consulting Group of Chicago and identified alarming connections between food access and health outcomes. For example, pregnant women who live near a Toledo food retailer that typically carries chips and other convenience items with little nutritional value, instead of healthy food, are more likely to deliver an overweight baby, which can pose serious health issues during childhood and later in adulthood. And for every one-mile increase in residential distance from a mainstream supermarket in Toledo, deaths from heart disease rise 2.2 percent. That means more than 6,300 Toledoans could be affected by shortened lifespan due to heart disease.
The social determinants of health are about going beyond the four walls of a hospital, to those moments where health is actually impacted – in our homes, our schools, and our neighborhoods. As communities tackle the root cause of health issues, hospital and healthcare providers should be engaged as part of the solution, driving the belief that food is medicine. 
Kate Sommerfield is the Corporate Director, Social Determinants of Health, at ProMedica Health System in Toledo, Ohio. To learn more about ProMedica’s “Hunger is a Health Issue” programs, visit
*The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of The Healthy Food Access Portal.