INDIANAPOLIS—With a $2.9 million grant from the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, researchers from Indiana University School of Medicine are working to improve food insecurity in Indiana and ultimately improve the health of people in Indiana.
Individuals who experience food insecurity–inconsistent access to affordable and nutritious food–are more susceptible to a variety of health conditions, including hypertension and Type 2 Diabetes. The FoRKS: Food Resources and Kitchen Skills initiative builds upon dietitian-led programs at Eskenazi Health to improve nutrition and lifestyle practices among patients at the health system’s federally qualified health centers in Indianapolis.
“A lot of the disparities in health and life expectancy that we observe operate through diet-related chronic conditions, and it can take years for diet quality to have an effect on a person’s health,” said Daniel Clark, PhD, associate professor of medicine and co-leader of the project. “By getting more people help earlier in life on ways to better manage diet and prevent high blood pressure and blood sugar, we can reduce the damage that could occur later in life, helping to minimize the risk of heart attacks and strokes.”
Patients who participated in the pilot program in 2021 had meals delivered to their homes that included low amounts of sodium and carbohydrates and they received an essential set of cooking tools to make their meals. In addition, they joined eight to 10 other participants on Webex for twice-weekly cooking courses and joined Eskenazi Health’s hypertension management course.
The average attendance during the pilot study was 87 percent. Mean satisfaction was 4.7 out of 5 for the delivered foods and 4.9 out of 5 for the hands-on cooking class. Clark said the dietitians did a good job of keeping people engaged while they learned, helping to make the experience more of a support group. “The pilot project was completed during the height of the pandemic, a time that was difficult for people in many different ways,” Clark said. “We found the social interaction we were able to provide was important to participants.”
With the new grant, researchers will soon launch a randomized trial of 200 patients in Indianapolis. Ultimately, they hope participants will experience lower mean systolic blood pressure as a result of the study. They will also monitor food security and nutrition, as well as the cost-effectiveness and behavioral mechanisms such as learning engagement, self-efficacy and food resource management skills.
Other collaborators on the project include Richard Holden, chair of the IU School of Public Health-Bloomington as well as Deanna Reinoso, MD, Rebecca Rivera, PhD and Wanzhu Tu, PhD, all of IU School of Medicine. Emily Dawkins and Mariah Adams, both dietitians from Eskenazi Health, were also collaborators.
About IU School of Medicine
IU School of Medicine is the largest medical school in the U.S. and is annually ranked among the top medical schools in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. The school offers high-quality medical education, access to leading medical research and rich campus life in nine Indiana cities, including rural and urban locations consistently recognized for livability.