Pilot Program to Promote a Plant-Based Diet and Reduce the Risk for Heart Disease and Diabetes | NYC Health + Hospitals

NYC Health + Hospitals/Bellevue and Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams Announce Pilot Program for Patients to Adopt a Plant-Based Diet, Reducing Risk for Heart Disease and Diabetes

The Plant-Based Lifestyle Medicine Program will provide intensive support for patients who wish to adopt healthy lifestyle changes

Aug 29, 2018

New York, NY

NYC Health + Hospitals/Bellevue will embark on a pilot program to help patients transition to a healthy lifestyle that includes a whole-foods, plant-based diet to improve, and in some cases reverse, chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, obesity, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure.

The Plant-Based Lifestyle Medicine Program is designed to serve as an intensive resource for adult patients with chronic disease who wish to reduce their cardiometabolic risk through healthful lifestyle changes, including following a diet that emphasizes legumes, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds, and reduces animal products, fried foods, refined grains, and added sugars.

The $400,000 pilot program is funded by NYC Health + Hospitals and will be open to at least 100 patients from all five boroughs. Doctors, nurses, dietitians, and life coaches will work with patients to change their lifestyles and eating patterns. Staff is already being recruited for the program, which is expected to launch in fall 2018 and will be evaluated after six months.

Dr. Michelle McMacken, director of the NYC Health + Hospitals/Bellevue Adult Weight Management Program, will lead the Plant-Based Pilot Program.

The pilot program is a result of Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams’ advocacy around plant-based nutrition. Since positively experiencing the life-changing effects of a plant-based diet, he has remained focused on bringing its powerful health benefits to the rest of the city. A natural progression of Borough President Adams’ efforts, the creation of the Plant-Based Lifestyle Medicine Program was born out of a meeting with Deputy Mayor Herminia Palacio, NYC Health + Hospitals leaders, including Dr. Michelle McMacken, director of the NYC Health + Hospitals/Bellevue Adult Weight Management Program, and other plant-based nutrition experts.

“Wellness starts at home, with the foods we eat every day, and as a City, we must do more to make sure New Yorkers have the tools and opportunity so they make and sustain healthy choices,” said Dr. Herminia Palacio, Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services. “I’m pleased that the strong collaborative efforts of Health + Hospitals and Borough President Adams are getting this innovative pilot program off the ground, and I look forward to seeing how it can help New Yorkers lead healthier lives.”

“This program will assist patients who are living with chronic health conditions, giving them the guidance and support they need to transition to a healthy lifestyle,” said Dr. McMacken, who will direct the pilot. “Healthy lifestyle habits have the potential to prevent, treat, and sometimes even reverse conditions such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.”

“This clinic will champion a new paradigm for health care in New York and beyond, one in which patients gain freedom not only from debilitating, life-threatening chronic diseases but also from the harsh side effects and reduced quality of life associated with traditional, less effective treatments,” said Brooklyn Borough President Adams. “The power of plant-based diets allowed me to reverse my type 2 diabetes, and I’m elated that through this clinic, it will do the same—and more—for countless New Yorkers.”

“As Hippocrates once said, ‘Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.’ Studies show that transitioning to a more plant-based diet alleviates the side effects associated with chronic conditions like heart disease, diabetes, obesity, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure,” said State Senator Brad Hoylman. “Thank you to NYC Health + Hospitals and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams for giving New York patients the tools they need to live healthier, more empowered lives.”

“I commend NYC Health + Hospitals/Bellevue and Brooklyn Borough President Adams for creating a pilot program that will connect patients to a nutritious, plant-based diet,” said State Senator Gustavo Rivera. “This necessary effort will simultaneously help patients reduce chronic health conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease, while promoting healthy eating habits across New York City.”

“This NYC Health + Hospitals pilot program to encourage plant-based diets will help improve the health of adults with chronic diseases like diabetes, obesity, and heart disease,” said New York State Assembly Health Committee Chair Richard N. Gottfried. “The more New Yorkers embrace eating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, the healthier we’ll be.”

“I think moving toward a plant-based diet is a critical choice for people with a chronic health issue,” said New York State Assembly Member Harvey Epstein.

“The science and the success stories of New Yorkers like Borough President Eric Adams show that adopting a plant-based diet can not only improve health outcomes, but it can also save New Yorkers thousands of dollars in health care costs,” said New York City Councilwoman Carlina Rivera, Chair of the New York City Council’s Committee on Hospitals. “Too many residents in our city do not have the financial opportunity or the information to access healthy plant-based nutrition in their communities, but we can change that with initiatives like the Plant-Based Lifestyle Medicine Program and a commitment to providing low-cost healthy food options to all. I want to commend NYC Health + Hospitals, the Bellevue staff, and Borough President Adams for launching this pilot program, and I look forward to residents of District 2 participating this fall.”

“Science has now settled the question: a plant-based diet yields tangible health benefits across a range indicators,” said New York City Council Health Chair Mark Levine. “This new center at Bellevue makes a critical addition to New York City’s health care landscape and will help patients in need adapt their diet for maximum health benefit. This is cutting-edge medicine at its best.”

“Adopting a plant-based diet literally saved my life,” said New York Council Member Fernando Cabrera. “I found myself in the hospital with an artery completely blocked and 24 hours to live. This experience has made me a passionate advocate for plant-based foods and healthy lifestyles. The Bronx continues to have health outcomes that lag behind the rest of the state in chronic diseases that can be avoided, controlled, or eliminated by adopting a healthy lifestyle. This year, I’ve distributed $6,000 in Health Bucks in my district. Last spring, I sponsored Resolution 238 with Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, calling on the Department of Education to ban processed meats from school lunches, which often include processed meats, known to lead to serious health conditions. For a lot of kids, the food they get in school is the only full meal they will have all day, so making sure lunch is healthy is important. We have to do all we can to make healthy food choices available to all New Yorkers. I commend NYC Health + Hospitals and Borough President Adams for their leadership in creating the Plant-Based Lifestyle Medicine Program.”

“A plant-based diet not only provides enormous health benefits, it’s also good for animal welfare and the environment—using fewer resources and creating less pollution than diets centered around animal products,” said New York City Council Member Helen Rosenthal. “This is why I’ve introduced a resolution in the City Council encouraging New Yorkers to enjoy ‘Meatless Mondays.’ NYC Health + Hospitals and Brooklyn Borough President Adams’ new program will help scores of New Yorkers live longer and better lives by improving their overall health and helping to prevent and treat a wide range of diseases. I am thrilled to support this wonderful initiative.”

“This Plant-Based Lifestyle Medicine Program is just the prescription New York patients need to help prevent and reverse heart disease and diabetes,” says Neal Barnard, MD, FACC, founder of the Barnard Medical Center, which emphasizes improving patient health through prevention and plant-based nutrition. “Teaching patients about the power of plant-based diet is a proven path toward helping them successfully fight diet-related disease.”

“Science overwhelmingly supports the efficacy of a predominantly whole food, plant-based dietary lifestyle as most efficacious in treating and reversing chronic disease,” said Susan Benigas, executive director of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine. “Lifestyle medicine is about how one moves, thinks, sleeps, with what one eats being foundational, focused on a diet heavily comprised of that which grows from the ground in as close to nature’s package as possible—nutrient dense, fiber-filled, health protecting and disease fighting.”

“The American Diabetes Association’s Standards of Medical Care in Diabetes includes recommendations for a variety of healthy eating patterns to address the individual nutritional needs of people with diabetes,” said Sacha Uelmen, RDN, CDE, director of Nutrition for the ADA. “Several eating patterns have evidence as healthful options for people with diabetes, including a plant-based eating pattern.”

Lifestyle medicine is a scientific approach to decreasing the risk of disease and the burden of illness by using evidence-based lifestyle interventions such as nutrition, physical activity, stress reduction, and smoking cessation.

“Nutrition is a critical piece of the lifestyle medicine approach,” said Dr. Dave Chokshi, chief population health officer at NYC Health + Hospitals and a physician at NYC Health + Hospitals/Bellevue. “Through a patient-centered, team-based approach, the Plant-Based Lifestyle Medicine Program will offer education and support for transitioning to a whole-foods, plant-based diet along with other healthful behavior changes.”

Patients may be referred to the program by their primary care providers and specialists within the NYC Health + Hospitals health system, as well as by providers in other health systems and in the community. The program will also accept patients who come in on their own and meet program criteria.

Assessments and counseling will be offered through individual visits, with attention to cultural, familial, socioeconomic, psychosocial, health literacy, and other factors that may shape eating patterns. Patients will be given the tools to make positive lifestyle changes and to sustain these healthful habits over the long term.

The program includes partnerships with Health Bucks to provide coupons distributed by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene for patients to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables at farmers markets in the city, and with the Healthy Savings program, which offers discounts on produce at local supermarkets.

Staffing for the initial phase of the program will include four physicians, a registered dietitian, a health coach, medical assistants, and clerical staff. This model will enable patients to have contact with program staff every 1-2 weeks as needed.

Services will include:

  • Initial visit with a physician for a comprehensive evaluation, including comorbidities, medications, family/cultural/social context, and readiness and barriers to change; an overview of nutrition recommendations; a discussion of how dietary changes could potentially impact the patient’s specific chronic conditions; and development of a plan for monitoring and follow-up.
  • Visit with a dietitian for an in-depth, individual dietary assessment and counseling on healthful plant-based diet, including help with meal planning. Follow up every 2-4 weeks, ideally including patients’ family members.
  • Individual in-person and/or telephone visits with lifestyle coach to facilitate behavior change (goal-setting and motivational interviewing strategies), ideally every 1-2 weeks.
  • Follow-up visits in person and/or by telephone with the physician for monitoring and medication management, such as adjustment of medications as indicated, especially for patients with diabetes and/or hypertension.
  • Nursing visits as needed for blood pressure checks.

Those interested in learning more may call 347-507-3695 to receive additional information about the program.


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