The University of Chicago Medicine and Walgreens are teaming up to
launch a “Food Rx” initiative that will help people with diabetes
improve their eating habits by overcoming two major hurdles when
shopping for food: access and affordability.
Dr. Robert Sargis uses a Food Rx handout to review his recommendations for diabetes patient Judy Green during a visit at the University of Chicago Medicine. (Photo: Business Wire)
As part of the Improving Diabetes Care and Outcomes on the South Side of
Chicago, a project based at the University of Chicago Medicine, diabetes
patients who visit one of six South Side clinics can receive a
prescription-like checklist of their doctor’s food recommendations and a
coupon for $5 off $20 worth of healthy food at participating Walgreens
locations. Patients also can get a $3 voucher for the weekly 61st Street
Farmers Market in the Woodlawn neighborhood.
Peek, MD, assistant professor of medicine and associate director of
the Chicago Center for Diabetes Translation Research, said the
initiative puts the power of a prescription behind a doctor’s counsel on
“The factors driving the diabetes prevalence rate on the South Side are
multifaceted, and addressing them requires a comprehensive, nuanced
approach,” said Peek, lead on the Food Rx initiative. “Many of the
patients we see have challenges accessing and preparing healthy food.
Through continued education and initiatives like this one, we’re working
to chip away at the obstacles and alter behaviors.”
Multiple studies have established the strong correlation of food costs
and access with obesity, diabetes, hypertension and cancer rates. Many
residents of the South Side do not have easy access to a nearby
supermarket to purchase fresh produce and other healthy options.
Instead, they opt for convenience and low-priced options by going to
fast food restaurants or buying processed foods from corner stores.
The Food Rx initiative builds on the Improving Diabetes Care and
Outcomes on the South Side of Chicago interventions already under way,
including patient education, grocery store tours, tools for health care
providers, improvements to clinic systems and relationships with
community organizations such as food pantries.
Food Rx organizers say the participating clinics are natural
collaborators in this effort because they already serve the target
population. In addition, Walgreens’ prominence in urban communities and
its commitment to provide greater access to fresh fruits and vegetables,
low-fat dairy products and whole grains in many locations, make the
Deerfield-based health and daily living destination another ideal ally.
“Walgreens is uniquely positioned to help improve health outcomes
through the pharmacy, health and wellness services we provide and by
making fresh and affordable food options available to South Side
communities with limited access to healthier options,” said Denise
Scarpelli, Walgreens market pharmacy director. “Each day, our
pharmacists provide valuable information, advice and support in the
communities we serve. Through this program, the important
patient-pharmacist relationship is taken to a new level and connects
people with their pharmacist in a meaningful way.”
Food Rx also is working with the 61st Street Farmers Market, which
features more than two dozen vendors offering locally grown fruits and
vegetables, fresh whole grain breads, dairy products and healthy
homemade meals. The market was launched in 2008 by the nonprofit
organization Experimental Station and a group of residents who wanted
access to fresh, seasonal food.
“Through our 61st Street Farmers Market, we’re helping to rebuild the
food culture on the South Side and change food consumption patterns by
making fresh and healthy foods available, more affordable and more
desirable to the local community,” said Connie Spreen, executive
director of Experimental Station. “The Food Rx program will enable
patients suffering from diabetes to discover how much better their lives
can be if they put good food on their plates.”
Chin, MD, professor of medicine, director of the Chicago Center for
Diabetes Translation Research and co-principal investigator of Improving
Diabetes Care and Outcomes on the South Side of Chicago, points out that
while the impact of food access is significant, particularly when it
comes to diabetes, there are many other dynamics at play with health
“These include cultural issues, health system issues, unconscious bias,
residential segregation, fewer treatment options and limited community
resources,” Chin said. “Our overall project tries to address many of
these elements. With the Food Rx program, we’re helping people with some
of the elements they can control. Diabetes management is largely
lifestyle — what you eat and what you do.”
The Food Rx organizers will continue to look for other accessible
destinations for healthy foods. Researchers will review feedback,
redemption rates and other data from each site to evaluate program
effectiveness and make any necessary tweaks.
Peek is proud of the Food Rx collaboration, and she acknowledges that
transforming cultural norms that are generations in the making will not
“We didn’t get here overnight,” she said. “But there is proven
effectiveness in empowering people to make better choices, overcome
social determinants and play a stronger role in their own health
Improving Diabetes Care and Outcomes on the South Side of Chicago is
funded by the Merck Company Foundation and National Institutes of
Health. For more information on the project visit http://southsidediabetes.org.
Access Booker Family Health Center, 654
E. 47th St.
Access Grand Boulevard Health and Specialty Center, 5401
S Wentworth Ave.
Chicago Family Health Center, 9119
S Exchange Ave.
Friend Family Health Center, 800
E 55th St.
Kovler Diabetes Center at the University of Chicago Medicine, 5841
S. Maryland Ave.
The Primary Care Group at the University of Chicago Medicine, 5841
S. Maryland Ave.
Participating Walgreens stores:
W. 79th St.
S. Cottage Grove Ave.
S. Ashland Ave.
W. 63rd St.
E. 92nd St.
E. 67th Place
E. 79th St.
Street Farmers Market
(between Dorchester and Blackstone
9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays, from mid-May to mid-December
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