With March Comes a Fresh New Way for Marketers to Take a Stand


March is when the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics shines a light on the importance of eating right to control weight and prevent chronic disease.

So, as we observe National Nutrition Month®, this is a great opportunity for marketers to help connect their brands with consumers who want to make a healthy change in their diets to improve overall health and well-being.

But what if your consumer lives in a “food desert” without access to healthy foods?

For healthcare marketers like ProMedica, this is a big challenge. It’s also a unique opportunity to educate people on food insecurity and the high healthcare costs associated with it.

So, first things first. What exactly is a “food desert”? According to the American Nutrition Association (ANA), “Food deserts are defined as parts of the country vapid of fresh fruit, vegetables and other healthful whole foods, usually found in impoverished areas.” Because these food deserts lack whole-food providers, what’s left are corner stores and “quickie marts” that only offer processed sugar- and fat-laden foods that are contributing factors to our nation’s obesity epidemic and have been linked to higher rates of illnesses like cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease as well.

Social determinants of health

When most people think of healthcare, they tend to think of clinical and medical care, which account for only 20% of everything that affects a person’s health and well-being. The other 80% includes the physical environment, social and economic factors and the behaviors that affect health. These are called the social determinants of health – the conditions in which we are born, grow, live, work and age. If you think about it, our ZIP Code says more about our health than our genetic code.

So, a person living in a food desert has to travel outside their community to get healthy foods. And for many lacking their own transportation, this can mean taking two buses to get to and from a grocery store. Imagine having to line your grocery bag strategically with frozen vegetables to pack fresh meat so it doesn’t go bad on the long, uncomfortable commute back home. It’s quite the clever tactic, really, but there has to be a better way. ProMedica agrees.

Hunger as a health issue

The cost of hunger nationally is estimated to be at least $167.5 billion, with $130 billion of that for healthcare. Food insecurity impacts nearly 13% of households, including 19% of all homes with children, 33% of all single mothers with children, and more than 30% of all seniors.

These statistics are alarming and represent a critical issue that the healthcare industry is largely ignoring. As a healthcare system, “We will always invest in new technologies,” states ProMedica CEO Randy Oostra, “but an investment in our communities is equally important.”

So, as part of ProMedica’s efforts to transform healthcare by addressing the social determinants of health, ProMedica began screening patients in its hospitals and offices for food insecurity. That led to other initiatives including food pharmacies (where patients fill provider prescriptions for food); food reclamation efforts that redirected 300,000 pounds of food that would have been thrown away; weekend backpack programs to help school kids stay healthy; and as a true commitment to rethinking the standard business model, building an inner city grocery store in a former food desert in downtown Toledo that also provides job training for neighborhood residents.

To raise awareness for this new store, Market on the Green, Hart produced two :15 videos. One is directed to people who live in Toledo and the other for all who work downtown. To generate even more awareness, Hart is in discussions with ProMedica to develop a grassroots campaign that speaks to consumers inside the store at the time of purchase and through the market’s online shopping and delivery service.


So, if you’re a healthcare services marketer, it’s worth noting that even small promotions can make a big impact.

To discuss this topic and others that impact your brand, contact:

Sharon Stemen
Manager, New Business Development
419.893.9600 Ext. 161