This Month’s Food as Medicine Roundup: May 2020

Sahra Pak May 29, 2020
Sahra Pak
As a registered dietitian, Sahra brings her extensive experience in health care and public health to Lighter to improve the health of the population through effective communication, sustainable behavior modification approaches and upstream intervention strategies. Through her work with Los Angeles and Solano County Departments of Public Health, Kaiser Permanente, and partnering with health advocacy organizations such as CSPI (Center for Science in the Public Interest), Sahra has helped create sustainable food systems, adapted public policy, implemented environmental change, and health education programs.

Thank you for checking out this week’s edition of our Food as Medicine News Roundup! Once a month, I’ll share a collection of important and trending articles in the food as medicine space.

With the news of packed beaches and parks in many areas of the country during the Memorial Day holiday weekend, many Americans are showing the signs and symptoms of getting fed up with staying at home and being sheltered from the sun and good times. Additionally, there are many still struggling to make ends meet due to unemployment and living through uncertain times. 

As we approach summer this year when most want to enjoy some fun and relaxing times filled with friends, family, and good food - we are all adjusting to what may be the ‘new normal’ of how we shop, cook, and eat our meals. Read on to find out how grocers and consumers are shifting with the demands and changes due to COVID-19, and how places that view and offer food as medicine are vital now more than ever before. 

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Grocery stores and shoppers are adapting to the 'new normal' - but how well are consumers really doing?

It’s already been a few months since shelter-in-place (SIP) began in most states and counties in the U.S. - and with it's introduction, consumer buying patterns have changed quickly and grocers have responded swiftly to the behavior shift. Data from Nielsen found that $18.8 billion was spent on consumer packaged goods in the month of March alone due to COVID-19 panic buying. Another recent poll found that despite the shutdown and fear of shopping in public places, 70% of consumers surveyed still preferred to shop at grocery stores. 

Most recently, a survey of 1,000 Americans conducted in mid-May found that 42% of U.S. consumers feel safe to return to physical retail stores to shop for essential items such as food and personal care items, but 27% of consumers are worried about whether they can meet all of their financial obligations due to the impact from COVID-19. Some good news is that the U.S. Department of Agriculture is running a pilot to alleviate some of the financial challenges that millions of Americans are facing during this time by rolling out online ordering capabilities at stores for SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) participants. But with more than 20 million losing their jobs in April and when 1 in 7 adults between 50 to 80 have difficulty putting food on their tables, it is vital for healthcare providers and policymakers to stay aware and mindful of how patients and consumers are accessing their meals during these challenging times.  

“One thing is clear - consumer behavior has changed and it’s not going back.”

⏤ Nicole Collida, senior vice president, Nielsen


As COVID-19 impacts food shopping, access, and supply chain, home cooking and vegetable gardens increase

Cooking from home is also seeing a spike due to restrictions on purchases and in-dining services offered by restaurants and other eateries. According to Kroger’s data science and analytics unit, 51% of customers are cooking and baking more now than before the pandemic, 46% reported snacking more, and 40% reported eating more indulgent and comfort foods. Kroger is conducting a pilot program where physicians write “food prescriptions” that patients can “fill” at a local Kroger store alongside support from a store dietitian to support optimal health. 

“Through Kroger Health’s telenutrition service, our dietitians are providing free personalized nutrition advice to help our customers shop for and prepare delicious and affordable nutritious meals.” 

⏤ Jim Kirby, senior director, Kroger Health 

For those that are finding it challenging to source food at the grocery store, they have taken matters into their own hands by growing food at home. Oregon State University's Master Gardener program noticed a surge in interest in growing food at home and also experienced a flood of vegetable seeds orders. 

“Ball (executive chairman of the Burpee Seed Company) says he has noticed spikes in seed sales during bad times: the stock market crash of 1987, the dotcom bubble burst of 2000, and he remembers the two oil crises of the 1970s from his childhood. But he says he has not seen a spike this large and widespread.”

Some local residents and students in Cleveland have also started a crowdfunded community garden and are running a free meal delivery service for those that need support. 

Food is essential to your patients’ health and happiness. By incorporating knowledge and tools that meet the needs of our community, we can share the power of food through our business, practices, and “prescriptions.” We hope that you and your clients/patients stay well through the reopening of our country as we navigate the changes that are brought upon us by this virus.

Eat well and stay healthy!