In some excellent news for Chicago's food desert dwellers, Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley and Walgreens' Executive Vice President, Mark Wagner, announced a new joint initiative to offer expanded service in 10 food-desert Walgreens sites. Even better, Walgreens is partnering with Northwestern Medicine and Near North Health Service Corporation to create food "prescriptions" which will educate patients on better food choices. These Walgreens locations will now offer more than 750 new food items including fresh fruits and vegetables, frozen meats and fish, pasta, rice, beans, eggs, whole grain cereals and other healthy meal components.
Patients at the Komed Holman Health Center, located in Chicago's Kenwood neighborhood on the south side, can go to the Walgreens store at 67th and Stony Island and receive discounts on food items that have been "prescribed" by doctors at the Center. Komed is part of the Diabetes Collaborative, an effort aimed specifically at reducing diabetes and its concurrent negative health outcomes in underserved minority populations. The goal of the program, whose success was recognized by Mutual of America in 2009, is to educate its participants in the best way to manage their diabetes, and has been shown to help patients achieve their self-management goals.
Again, if these initiatives are to have any effect on reducing the negative health outcomes of the food desert, it is absolutely crucial that patients not only have an understanding of self-care and good choices - but that they be able to use the resources that are now offered to them. The USDA has an excellent resource for families: the SNAP-ED recipe finder. In it, anyone with internet access can research a database of healthy recipes which can be filtered for specific nutritional needs: e.g. calcium-rich, whole-grain, and also for styles of food, availability of cooking equipment, and cost per serving. Walgreens would do well to offer this free information to the participants in this project, to make sure the good food they're bringing to the desert does not go untasted.