During a recent summit hosted by the Gerald J. and Dorothy R. Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, speakers advocated for the widespread adoption of food as medicine programs.
“We are so sick as a nation,” says Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, Dean for Policy and Jean Mayer Professor of Nutrition at the Friedman School. Just one in fifteen adults in the United States are metabolically healthy, he continues, and many of these illnesses are diet-related.
Mozaffarian and other food and nutrition experts speaking at the Food Is Medicine National Summit say that food and nutrition are central to improving the nation’s health. Solving the problem “is about innovation and unlocking the power of food,” Mozaffarian states.
While the concept of food medicine has different meanings, the Summit focused on the landscape of food-based nutritional interventions that can be integrated into healthcare to treat and prevent illness. These approaches can include medically tailored meals and grocery boxes and produce prescription boxes as well as expanded nutrition security programs and policies focused on healthy foods.
Challenges remain to expanding food as medicine initiatives, however. In the healthcare and insurance space, Shantanu Agrawal, Chief Health Officer for Elevance Health says, “There’s a great deal of evidence of need. There’s a great deal of evidence outside my industry showing that need can be met. Oftentimes that evidence is created in an academic medical setting, in university settings within a research paradigm. The challenge is connecting that kind of research to the real world implementation environment that we’re in and showing that we can roll out real food solutions that meet our members where they are and take advantage of community resources.”
It’s also critical to unlock investment to support the community members themselves, argues Daphne Miller, Director of Integrative Medicine Curriculum for the Lifelong Family Medicine Residency Program. “How do you not just invest in the [medically tailored meals] and in the prescriptions, but actually move those dollars into communities?” Miller asks. “We know that the number one reason behind food insecurity is lack of capital, lack of wealth, poverty…so healthcare needs to go deep to address that.”
But fortunately, the speakers note, a growing number of stakeholders are embracing food as medicine solutions.
“We’re enjoying a moment of enormous political momentum,” says Josh Trautwein, Co-Founder and CEO of About Fresh, a nonprofit working to increase access to healthy food.
The recent White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health; a Medicare pilot program for medically tailored meals, and a commitment to focus on nutrition within the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are all examples of the growing movement.
“The stakes are enormously high,” says Robert Califf, the FDA’s Commissioner of Food and Drugs, “with the potential for significant gains in health through the redirection of forces in our society towards nutrition, health, and a common view of our interdependence.”
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