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Food is Medicine for HIV-Positive, Type 2 Diabetes Patients

Food is Medicine for HIV-Positive, Type 2 Diabetes Patients
Author Information (click to view)

University of California - San Francisco


University of California - San Francisco (click to view)

University of California - San Francisco

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Study finds good nutrition improves medication adherence, mental health.

HIV-positive people who received healthy food and snacks for six months were more likely to adhere to their medication regimens, and they, as well as people with type 2 diabetes, were less depressed and less likely to make trade-offs between food and healthcare, according to a new study led by researchers at UC San Francisco.

The study was done jointly by researchers from UCSF and from Project Open Hand, a San Francisco Bay Area non-profit agency that has provided nutritious meals to low-income people with HIV since 1985, and more recently to elderly people and those with other medical conditions, such as type 2 diabetes.

The study, which appeared online on January 17, 2017 in the Journal of Urban Health, was designed to evaluate whether helping people get medically appropriate, comprehensive nutrition would improve their health. Such food assistance as an approach to improve medication adherence and health has been shown to be effective in low-resource countries, but it has not been well studied in the developed world.


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With 52 participants, the new study was too small to show conclusively whether providing nutritious food to people with diabetes resulted in better long-term control of their blood sugar, or reduced hospitalizations or emergency department visits. It did find increases in the number of people with diabetes who achieved optimal blood sugar control, and decreases in hospitalizations or emergency department visits, but these changes did not reach statistical significance. Participants with diabetes also consumed less sugar and lost weight.

“We saw significant improvements in food security and in outcomes related to all three mechanisms through which we posited food insecurity may affect HIV and diabetes health — nutritional, mental health, and behavioral,” said Kartika Palar, MD, an assistant professor of medicine at UCSF and co-first author of the study. “For example, we saw dramatic improvements in depression, the distress of having diabetes, diabetes self-management, trading-off between food and healthcare, and HIV medication adherence.”

Read the full press release.

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