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Researchers win grant from BlueKC to study food insecurity

October 10, 2019

By Jeffrey Field and Anne Christiansen-Bullers

photo of unhealthy vs. healthy food

Choosing healthy food can be tough for anyone in a world of dollar menus and convenience store snacks. But what if you lacked the access to healthier options and the money to buy it? What then? If you had help getting better options, would you consistently make better choices?

Researchers at the University of Kansas Medical Center intend to find out. They will use a $400,000 grant to study how community health workers can help close the food insecurity gap in certain patients. The grant, from a partnership between from BlueKC (Blue Cross Blue Shield) and Bionexus KC, was presented Sept. 24 during the Hunger-Free Healthcare Summit in Kansas City.

The project will be led by researchers with the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health at the KU School of Medicine. Jennifer Woodward, MD, MPH, assistant professor of family medicine, and Kristina Bridges, PhD, senior research associate, accepted the grant. Other project members include Allen Greiner, MD, MPH, professor of family medicine research division, and Debra Sullivan, PhD, RD, chair of the Department of Dietetics and Nutrition in the KU School of Health Professions.

In the study, researchers will seek to enroll patients with type 2 diabetes who tell their primary care physician about food security problems. Participants in the study will be connected with community workers for food and education, and then researchers will measure the participants' outcomes.

The Community Health Council of Wyandotte County and Vibrant Health are study partners. Woodward plans to enroll 180 patients from the University of Kansas Health System and 80 more from Vibrant Health.

"I'm hopeful that these combined, evidence-based approaches will provide a jumpstart to a sustained healthy diet for our population of patients experiencing food insecurity and chronic disease," Bridges said.

The Transforming KC Health Research Grant usually funds four $50,000 health grants every year. In this case, the company combined them into one lump sum that will fund this work for the next two years.

"Essentially, BlueKC recognizes food insecurity as a significant problem in Kansas City," Woodward said.

The grant project also will attempt to shape the food access environment - those channels currently in place (or not in place) to get healthy food to individuals in need.
Woodward says one solution may be the formation of a group passionate about finding a permanent solution to food insecurity. The group's membership might consist of health care providers, patients and representatives from local agriculture and community food organizations.

A group working on long-term solutions to food insecurity and healthy food options could be one measure of success, but more measurable feedback will come from the clinical trial participants involved in the study.

Improved health outcomes in each participant can be measured by:

  • Reduced hemoglobin A1C (glucose levels in the blood)
  • Improved blood pressure
  • Healthy weight and body mass index (BMI)
  • Fewer trips to the emergency room

Study participants also will be asked about their food intake before and after the study and if they know where to get healthy food and how to prepare it.

"We will be measuring health outcomes, but also the patient's capacity to continue the heathy habits after the research study has ended," Woodward said.

More about the grant

Last modified: Oct 10, 2019
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