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. Only one in 15 adults in the United States is metabolically healthy, he continues, and many of these diseases are diet-related.
Mozaffarian and other food and nutrition experts speaking at the Food Is Medicine National Summit say food and nutrition are critical to improving the health of the nation. Solving the problem “is about innovation and unlocking the power of food,” says Mozaffarian.
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 health care to treat and prevent disease. These approaches can include medically tailored meals and grocery boxes and produce prescription boxes, as well as expanded nutrition security programs and policies that focus on healthy foods.
However, challenges remain to expand food like medicine initiatives. In the health and insurance space, Shantanu Agrawal, Chief Health Officer at Elevance Health says, “There is a lot of evidence of need. There is a lot of evidence outside my industry that the need can be filled. Often such evidence is created in an academic medical context, in university contexts within a research paradigm. The challenge is to connect that type of research to the real-world implementation environment we find ourselves in and demonstrate that we can implement real food solutions that delight our members wherever they are and benefit from community resources.”
It’s also critical to unlock investment to support community members themselves, says Daphne Miller, director of the integrative medicine curriculum for the Family Medicine Permanent Residency Program. “How not to invest only in [medically tailored meals] and in prescriptions, but do you actually transfer those dollars into communities? asks Miller. “We know the number one reason behind food insecurity is lack of capital, lack of wealth, poverty…so health care needs to go deep to address this.”
But luckily, the speakers noted, a growing number of stakeholders are embracing food as a medical solution.
“We’re enjoying a time of tremendous political momentum,” says Josh Trautwein, co-founder and CEO of About Fresh, a nonprofit working to increase access to healthy foods.
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, FDA Food and Drug Commissioner, “with the potential for significant health gains through redirecting forces in our society toward nutrition, health, and a vision of our interdependence. “
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