The lack of access to healthy food increases the likelihood of diabetes in some communities, but some food banks are helping bridge the gap in those areas at greatest risk. The U.S Department of Agriculture defines food deserts as impoverished regions that do not have easy access to fresh fruits, vegetables, and other healthy whole foods. The development of food deserts often happens and are caused by lack of access to cars or public transportation and the limited availability of supermarkets within a mile radius create invisible barriers to access for those in need of healthy food.
The resulting food deserts often lead to the growth of convenience stores with food options that are full of processed sugars and fats that significantly increase the risk for diabetes. To make matters worse, these regions are often saturated with fast food restaurants that offer nutrition-deficient meals at a very low cost. Regional food banks, however, are helping patients with type 2 diabetes access fruits and vegetables recommended to manage the disease.
Diabetic Diet & Food Banks
The American Diabetes Association recommends a diet that is full of calcium, potassium, fiber, magnesium, and vitamin A, C and E. Nutrient-rich foods such as beans and dark leafy greens like kale, spinach, and collards are top recommendations to help manage diabetes. Those who are living in impoverished food deserts, however, often do not have access to these kinds of recommended foods and are left no option but to consume processed and sugary foods. Processed ingredients are linked to the development of insulin resistance that ultimately leads to diabetes in some. This chronic condition requires lifelong use of medications, medical care, and diets that are customized to minimize the risk for other health complications. Those people with diabetes who live in impoverished areas are faced with the rising cost of insulin medications and healthy food options.
Feeding America, one of the largest food pantries in the US, is taking the initiative to help those living in impoverished regions and food deserts living with diabetes. The food pantry collected data from low-income households that relied on their services and found that at least one third reported having a household member living with diabetes. To address this, Feeding America incorporated unprocessed whole foods to their pantry. They set up a grocery store layout that included items such as leafy greens, fruits, and nuts to help improve the health of diabetic patients and those who are at risk for developing the disease. The results of this initiative are already having a positive impact on residents in Texas, California, and Ohio. Residents in these regions are now taking control of their diet and diabetes with healthier foods that help manage blood sugar levels. This effort however, is only a small step towards better access to comprehensive diabetes care for the 1.4 million Americans that are diagnosed every year.