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Physicians identify food insecurities, educate people about healthy choices

BATON ROUGE - This week, 2 On Your Side has explored ways the capital city is working to bring healthier options to people who live in food deserts. It's an initiative under the mayor's office and HealthyBR.

At Our Lady of the Lake North Clinic on Airline Highway, there is a lot going on behind the scenes. At the doctor's office, physicians are screening patients for food insecurity. Dr. Tiffany Wesley Ardoin is the clinical director of the Geaux Get Healthy Program and says there have been a lot of success stories.

"Food insecurity is not having access to healthier nutritious foods," Ardoin said. "It's important for people to have access to these foods to eat healthy and improve their health with obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure by eating healthy."

Ardoin says it's not just having access to food, it's access to healthy food and educating people about how to prepare that food.

OLOL physicians use a USDA screening form. If patients are found to be food insecure, they qualify for a program that allows them cooking classes, a grocery store tour, a nutrition class, and access to partner resources. Those resources under the mayor's office and HealthyBR include non-profit partners like Baton Roots and community farms, as well as food distribution through Top Box Foods.

"They learn about not only how to cook healthy meals with the Healthy for Life American Heart Association curriculum, but they also learn how to incorporate those meals on a day-to-day basis, why they're important for their health, why it's important to make those choices," Ardoin said.

Participants also learn nutrition facts and clinical healthy facts like blood pressure and diabetes education.

Since its start in 2020, the program has helped over 300 people.

"It's great to see that a lot of our participants not only take ownership of that healthy eating for themselves but really bring that to their family and promote that amongst their whole family," Ardoin said.

As part of the Geaux Get Healthy campaign, Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome reached out to Dollar General to see if the company would stock fresh produce at some of its Baton Rouge locations. That finally came to fruition in 2020.

Now, when participants finish up that classroom work at OLOL, they meet with a nutritionist next door at Dollar General to learn how to shop for fresh food. At the start of the pandemic, the Dollar General in the 5400 block of Airline Highway got a facelift. It's now one of four locations in Baton Rouge that offer healthy food options to its customers.

"This is really a great location where they can walk or take public transportation," Executive Director of HealthyBR Jared Hymowitz said. "There's a bus stop right out front, someone can come here, get their produce and get back to where they live or work."

A nutritionist will teach program participants how to look for the right produce, read a label, and differentiate between what's healthy or why it's not.

OLOL and Dollar General are part of that ecosystem that educates people to ensure a healthy lifestyle sticks.

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