By Esther Liew, Food for Change Health Partnerships Manager, Houston Food Bank
April 30, 2020
Maternal health in Harris County does not happen in a void. It occurs over time with healthy habits and healthy environments. Specifically, access to healthy foods plays a huge role in determining diet-related chronic diseases, such as diabetes, hypertension, and even cancer. The Houston Food Bank has been committed to targeting nutrition as a key health determining factor for years.
Esther Liew, Food for Change Health Partnerships Manager, tells us more about the Houston Food Bank’s Food Rx Program and how it relates to mothers and children across the Greater Houston area:
The Food Rx program seeks to mitigate food insecurity in vulnerable populations by reaching them through organizations that already exist to provide programming that improves the health of participants. Participants receive a “Food Prescription” when they commit to a Community Health Program or are referred by a designated Healthcare Partner. Participants can then take their Food for Change card to a Food For Change Market and redeem fruits, vegetables, and other “Food Rx friendly” items free of charge. Participants can also take advantage of nutrition education material and events at the market, such as cooking classes. In this way, the Food Rx program meets people in their unique circumstances and extends a helping hand, hopefully laying the foundation for sustainable healthy habits.
Food Rx’s partnership with The Center for Children and Women started about a year and a half ago. In this partnership, Food Rx focuses on the women participating in the CenteringPregnancy groups, which are small groups of women who meet regularly for prenatal and postpartum support. Food Rx recognizes that women in this group present a unique and important target population because not only do the women themselves benefit from access to healthy foods but their children, the next generation, will as well. The program is currently on track to see improvements in gestational age at time of delivery and average birth weight of babies born to women enrolled in the program —tangible outcomes for both the mother and the child.
Esther was first drawn to this job because she wanted to combine her passion for food insecurity and healthcare. It wasn’t until after she was immersed in the work of this program that she realized how much more this program encompasses. “There’s so much more to say about programs like these than what the quantitative data tells us. I appreciate when our partners tell us about how their participants are responding, what they’re saying and also what their providers are saying.” For her, seeing the trust build between participants and their providers inspires her to stay involved. In the 2 years that she’s worked with Food Rx, our healthcare partners have told her that their patients feel significantly cared for when their providers and care team connect them to such a basic and tangible resource, such as healthy food. This is a sign of change and a national trend in medical care moving toward not only identifying social determinants of health, but now providing solutions that their patients need and appreciate.
“I support improving the maternal health in our communities, especially among mothers and families who are food insecure. Food insecurity is associated with poor health during pregnancy for both mother and child. Providing access to nutritious foods will decrease risk factors for our moms and babies!” ~ Esther Liew, Food for Change Health Partnerships Manager