Nutrition has increasingly been recognized as a critical part of a patient’s holistic healthcare. In addition, food has even been called ‘medicine’ for the body. That’s because eating well helps people stay healthy and can prevent some food-related diseases like Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension.
Access to high quality and healthy foods, however, is not that simple for many. Barriers such as lack of funds, a dearth of stores that offer fresh and healthy foods, and a lack of understanding of how to incorporate fresh fruits and vegetables into cooking make it difficult for people to fulfill nutritional daily requirements.
Many low-income families in our service areas, like Oakland’s Fruitvale and San Antonio neighborhoods, face these barriers. As a result, these communities are exposed to long-term physical and mental health problems like depression and anxiety.
To respond to this problem, La Clínica created the Healthy Food, Healthy Families Program that provides leadership training to community members who are interested in healthy eating and dedicated to making meaningful change in their communities.
These trained community members—known as Healthy Food Champions— use the Community Action Model to develop and implement projects focused on healthy eating and addressing food insecurity in their communities in ways that are culturally and linguistically appropriate.
“I can provide some of that information [about incorporating fresh food and healthy eating] back into the community in a way that is understandable, that is in our language, and in our own kind of culture,” Healthy Food Champion Silvia Guzmán says.
The program’s three goals are to increase the availability, consumption, and demand of healthy foods in their neighborhoods.
To achieve these goals, the Champions provide outreach and health education to community members at hands-on healthy cooking workshops, and during clinic-based food distributions, as well as maintain a community garden at a local recreation center. Some of the topics they cover include how to make healthier meals that are budget-friendly, and how to use nutrition information to make healthier choices.
In the first year of the program, the Healthy Food Champions have worked nearly 2,000 hours at more than 50 events throughout Alameda County and reached more than 1,800 community members.
For program participants, the positive changes they’ve helped realized in their community’s dietary choices and knowledge of nutrition have been very rewarding.
“I’ve lived in Oakland for 40 years and now that I’m a Healthy Food Champion, it brings me joy to see how our community comes together to celebrate through healthy and nutritious foods,” Healthy Food Champion Maria Uribe says. “It makes me really happy to see my community change this way.”
This program is coordinated by Catalina Palacios, the Health Educator that La Clínica hired from the local community. As someone with common lived experiences, she is integral to building rapport with the Champions as well as managing the partnerships with other community groups and organizations focused on increasing access to affordable and high quality food for low-income families.
These partnerships include Alameda County, which funds the program, the City of Oakland’s Parks and Recreation Department, local produce suppliers, food banks, local schools and other health centers.
Through this program, La Clínica is able to improve patients’ quality of life by meeting their social needs outside the walls of our clinics in ways that are efficient and long-lasting.