Obesity is the disease of the 21st century, a phrase that has been circulating since the turn of the century. Due to an increase in sedentary lifestyle and poor diet, obesity and all of its downstream effects from hyperlipidemia, diabetes, and hypertension are prominent in today’s society. Just looking at Primary Care Health Services alone, about 70% of our adult patients are overweight and 40% are obese! This is just one network of health center in Pittsburgh, thus only a sample here. As a health center, we want to create a healthier community and reduce the number of overweight and obese patients. However, in order to do that, we must learn to meet our patients where they are at.
For many, it seems like a fairly simple task to drive to the grocery store, pick out some fresh and healthy food, go home and cook it. For others, this task can be daunting. There are many barriers that many of us do not think about such as transportation, child care, multiple jobs, the proximity of grocery stores to home location, the overwhelming confusion of what is “healthy”, and the convenience of fast food. Imagine a single mother who takes on multiple jobs in order to support her kids. She does not have a car and have to take public transportation everywhere. She is limited on what she can buy at the store since time is essential for her. For her, it is much easier to pick something up at a local corner store or McDonald’s than to deal with the nuisances of public transportation. Already, the foods that she is getting at these corner stores are going to be highly processed with fat, sugar, and salt. For this mom, it would be counterproductive to ask her to buy fresh fruits and vegetables from a grocery store. However, we can teach her how to identify the healthier canned and frozen food as well as healthier options at fast food restaurants. We can also connect her to local food pantries or mobile pantries around her neighborhood. This is meeting the patients where they are at. It is educating, giving patients resources, and setting up achievable goals that patients are able to accomplish to improve their health outcome. Even though the goals that we set up may seem minimal like cutting down pop, walking an extra 10 minutes, or trying a piece of vegetable at dinner time, these goals can help patients shape their lifestyle and habits into something more positive for their health.