October 2016

Healthy Food is Key to Improving Health

Leigh Caswell

Food is key to a healthy life and an important economic driver to support a healthy community.


Presbyterian Healthcare Services, a not-for-profit healthcare system that has cared for New Mexicans since 1908, operates from the belief that everyone should have the opportunity to be healthy and live in thriving communities. Presbyterian has become increasingly aware that caring for the health of patients extends far beyond the walls of a hospital or clinic. From supporting mobile farmers’ markets to offering free meals to children at hospitals in Albuquerque, Socorro and Clovis, Presbyterian supports programs across New Mexico that address the need for healthy food.


In support of its mission and as part of a requirement of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Presbyterian focuses on three core community health priorities—healthy eating, active living and prevention of unhealthy substance use. Those areas of focus were chosen based on input gathered during community health needs assessments in 10 New Mexico counties in 2013 and 2016.


In 2015, Presbyterian signed the Healthy Food in Health Care pledge, a program of Health Care Without Harm. The pledge represents a system-wide approach that addresses the well-being of patients, staff and community members. For example, through its main food supplier, US Foods, product standards have been added that include purchasing meat and poultry raised without non-therapeutic antibiotics. Presbyterian has also transitioned to rBGH-free milk. For employees, there are healthier vending machine options, incentives for buying food from in-house salad bars and a complimentary fruit program. In 2015, 14,916 pieces of fruit were supplied at Presbyterian.


According to Feeding America, in New Mexico more than 17 percent of residents do not have access to adequate food to ensure good nutrition. For Presbyterian, addressing food insecurity means supporting organizations working at a grassroots level, like funding a demonstration kitchen at Roadrunner Food Bank as part of their Healthy Food Center, which provides healthy food for patients referred by medical providers for food insecurity. Or subsidizing Agri-Cultura Network’s La Cosecha Community-Supported Agriculture project, which provides low-income families with a weekly supply of locally grown, organic produce.


The connections between healthy food and healthy communities are clear. To truly improve health in communities, healthcare systems need to be part of the solution.



Leigh Caswell is director of Presbyterian Healthcare Services’ Center for Community Health.



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