Interventions around “Food is medicine” should take centre stage at the White House nutrition summit.
Most of the public’s beliefs about food as a health intervention are outdated. The same goes for the views of the American government and its health care regulations. Several decades, not a few years.
The last time the country gave food its full attention was during the White House Conference on Food, Nutrition, and Health in 1969. What is now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) programme, school breakfast and lunch programmes, the national approach to creating dietary guidelines, and the now-ubiquitous nutrition facts label are just a few of the significant programmes that were created or improved based on findings from that historic summit.
These initiatives have without a doubt helped feed the hungry, saved lives, and enhanced the general health of Americans. However, the 21st century presents us with a new reality: poor diets are a major contributor to high incidence of heart disease, diabetes, and various types of cancer. Over 90% of individuals in the United States do not have optimal cardiometabolic health, with over 50% of them having diabetes or prediabetes, 75% being overweight or obese. In the United States, 25% of teenagers are overweight or obese and have diabetes or prediabetes.
Low-income Americans, residents in rural regions, and members of historically marginalised racial and ethnic groups are those who are most impacted.
In addition to harming people’s health, chronic illnesses also have a negative impact on the economy. Poor nutrition must take some of the blame for the dramatic increase in health care costs from 5% of the GDP in 1960 to over 18% in 2020.
It is past time to acknowledge the benefits of better nutrition and access to nutritious foods for preventing and treating serious and chronic illnesses, enhancing health equity, and making financial savings.
We are excited by President Biden’s recent announcement that it’s time for a second White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health, to be held on September 28. As experts in medicine, nutrition, public health, and community intervention to improve food and nutrition security, we are pleased with this announcement. It presents a historic chance to spur “food is medicine” solutions, elevating food to the centre of the conversation about the country’s health issue.
Providers, clinicians, organisations, and academics have investigated a number of nutrition Window treatments and initiatives in health care during the past decade, and especially in the 53 years since the previous White House conference. medical centre specialised meal plans are one of them; one of us (D.B.W.) has been advocating for this strategy for more than three decades. It entails delivering completely cooked meals created especially for persons with severe, complicated conditions. Produce prescriptions are another food-medicine strategy, via which healthcare professionals can supply their patients with vouchers, debit cards, or referrals to meal programmes so they can purchase fresh fruits and vegetables.
Real innovation in tackling food and nutrition insecurity may be shown in these and other solutions. In order to guarantee that individuals’ diets are full of healthy foods to promote wellbeing, ward off illness, and even treat disease, the health care system—the single largest sector of the American economy—is now actively engaged in the struggle.
These programmes work well. Even after deducting the cost of the programmes, medically customised meals improve the lives of sick, lower-income individuals by reducing the number of emergency room visits by almost two-thirds and inpatient hospital admissions by half. Prescriptions for produce make it simpler for larger groups of people and families to alter their diets. Over the lifespan of current U.S. people, a nationwide produce prescription programme might save $40 billion in health care expenses and avoid almost 2 million heart attacks, strokes, and other cardiovascular disease events.
For the White House conference, there are already a number of suggestions on the table, such as requests to update Medicare and Medicaid to include medically tailored meals and other interventions as a covered benefit and to mandate additional nutrition education for healthcare professionals. For instance, just 1% of lecture hours at U.S. medical schools are devoted to nutrition instruction, despite the fact that patient or a clinician frequently turn to primary healthcare and other doctors for advice on diet and nutrition.
The meeting should, at the absolute least, encourage further research into food-as-medicine initiatives. For instance, Community Servings, where one of us (D.B.W.) serves as CEO, the Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, where one of us (D.M.) serves as dean, and the UMass Chan Medical School will further evaluate the effects of medically tailored meals thanks to recently awarded funding from the National Institutes of Health.
To learn more about how medically customised meal programmes might be effectively provided to individuals in need, this research and Medicare pilot programmes like the one proposed by U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) are imperative.
Unfortunately, only a tiny number of Americans have access to food as medicine programmes at the moment thanks to demonstration initiatives funded by private payers in a select few states. Therefore, the majority of Americans who might benefit from receiving prescriptions for medically designed meals and vegetables cannot.
More work has to be done to widen access to these programmes if nutrition is seen of as a social driver of health.