5 NYC Hospital Programs That Use Food to Address Chronic Diseases

by Iliana Garcia

There is overwhelming evidence demonstrating the impact of poor nutrition on health, specifically among diseases such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes. These diet-related chronic diseases now account for half of all deaths in the United States and have replaced tobacco as the leading causes of preventable death and illness worldwide. Below is a list of 5 NYC hospital programs that use food and nutrition to prevent or manage diet-related chronic diseases among their patients.

Bellevue Hospital

Name of program: Plant-Based Lifestyle Medicine Program
Location: Manhattan
Year it Started: The program was initiated as a pilot in 2018 .
Target Population: Adult patients living with diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease or other health concerns related to obesity.
How the Program Uses Food: The Plant-Based Lifestyle Program provides patients living with diet-related chronic diseases support in making  lifestyle changes that optimize health, lower the risk of disease complications, and improve overall well-being. The program focuses on six aspects of lifestyle change: a healthy plant-based diet, physical activity, stress reduction, sleep health, social connectedness, and avoidance of risky substances, and  includes individual appointments as well as group classes. In addition, participants have access to a plant-based doctor, a registered dietitian, and a health coach. In 2022, Mayor Eric Adams announced that the program is scheduled to expand to serve qualifying NYC Health + Hospitals patients at Jacobi, Lincoln, Woodhull, Kings County, and Elmhurst, and Gotham Health, Vanderbilt hospitals.
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Memorial Sloan Kettering

Name of program: Food to Overcome Outcome Disparities (FOOD)
Location: Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, Bronx and Long Island
Year it Started: 2011 
Target Population: Any patient receiving cancer treatment who reports a food need.
How the Program Uses Food: Food to Overcome Outcome Disparities (FOOD) is working to improve food security among immigrants and other medically underserved people who are undergoing treatment for cancer and other chronic illnesses. The program operates 13 food pantries located in cancer clinics serving patients in Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Long Island. Through partnerships with emergency food providers, the pantries are able to offer fresh fruits and vegetables and healthy, low-sodium, low-sugar options to help patients manage their conditions. In addition, the program works with community partners to refer patients to other resources, such as food pantries and soup kitchens, as well as to help eligible patients apply for food assistance programs.
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Northwell Health

Name of program: Food as Health
Location: Long Island
Year it Started: 2018
Target Population: Patients with a diagnosis impacted by nutrition (e.g. diabetes, hypertension, unintentional weight loss), who screen positive for food insecurity.  
How the Program Uses Food: Food as Health is a hospital-based initiative that aims to address issues of food insecurity including affordability, a lack of nutritional awareness, transportation/mobility challenges, and difficulty in preparing meals. The program uses a three-pronged strategy to provide healthy food based on the patient’s level of need at their point of care. They receive a nutrition consultation and information about community food resources by an Island Harvest registered dietitian. Upon discharge from the hospital, eligible food insecure patients receive a two-day supply of fresh produce and non-perishable food and a prescription for two refills. If patients have transportation or mobility issues, Long Island Cares Inc. will deliver emergency food supplies to their homes. If patients are unable to cook for themselves, God’s Love We Deliver will supply medically tailored meals appropriate for their health condition. 
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Montefiore Medical Center

Name of program: Cardiac Wellness Program
Location: Bronx
Year it Started: 2013
Target Population: Patients trying to prevent or reverse cardiovascular disease
How the Program Uses Food: The Cardiac Wellness Program at Montefiore brings a unique, nutrition-centered approach to the management of cardiovascular disease. Its aim is to prevent and/or reverse heart disease with a whole-food, plant-based diet. Created and directed by Robert Ostfeld, MD, MSc, and Lauren Graf, MS, RD, the program works with patients to embrace a diet that eliminates animal products and consists of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, legumes such as lentils and chickpeas, a small amount of nuts and avocado, as well as dairy alternatives. It begins with a one-on-one consultation with Dr. Ostfeld during which patients discuss their health goals and concerns. Following the consultation they are scheduled to attend a four-hour educational session that provides them with the information they need to adopt a plant-based lifestyle. Patients can then schedule follow up visits and “check in” phone calls based on their individual needs.
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New York Presbyterian

Name of program: Choosing Healthy & Active Lifestyles for Kids (CHALK)
Location: Northern Manhattan
Year it Started: 2017
Target Population: Pediatric patients and families that screen positive for food insecurity.
Description: Choosing Healthy & Active Lifestyles for Kids (CHALK) is NewYork-Presbyterian’s obesity prevention program established in collaboration with Columbia University Irving Medical Center and the community of Northern Manhattan. The program’s goal is to reduce the prevalence of childhood obesity in Northern Manhattan by making a  healthy lifestyle integral to the lives of all children and their families. In 2017, CHALK began to incorporate programs and partnerships to address food insecurity, and in 2019 launched the Food FARMacia program at the Washington Heights Family Health Center. The program provides food insecure patients with healthy groceries from the West Side Campaign Against Hunger’s mobile market truck (twice a month for six months) and connections to social services. In 2020, CHALK expanded its food insecurity initiatives to communities in Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens, Lower Manhattan, and Westchester County. To date, it has provided social services connections and more than 2 million pounds of healthy groceries to over 8,250 households.
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