Chronic diseases are a major concern in the United States, affecting over 133 million people and contributing to rapidly increasing federal healthcare spending, which is estimated to reach over $6 trillion annually by 2025. Various food is medicine (FIM) initiatives have been created to address this issue by supporting healthy eating habits and improving physical and mental health.
Suggestic is now at the forefront of the FIM movement, offering a comprehensive solution to help those suffering from chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart failure, and kidney failure. By combining access to healthy food via grocery, supplement or meal deliveries, nutrition education, tracking functions, and support from coaches and professionals, Suggestic is designed to deliver better patient outcomes and lower healthcare costs.
This post aims to provide an introductory exploration into how the multiple puzzle pieces in this field are starting to fit together to create solutions for growing healthcare problems rooted in real, healthy food.
What is “food is medicine”
“Food IS medicine” vs “food AS medicine”
“Food is medicine” and “food as medicine” are two related concepts that emphasize the importance of food in maintaining our health and well-being.
“Food is medicine” refers to the idea that the foods we eat can have a profound impact on our health and that by making healthy food choices, we can prevent and even treat many health conditions. This concept recognizes that the foods we consume contain nutrients, vitamins, and minerals that are essential for our bodies to function properly and that a healthy diet can help prevent chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. In general, the federal government and healthcare programs fall under this umbrella term.
“Food as medicine” takes this concept a step further, emphasizing the idea that specific foods and dietary patterns can be used as a form of therapy to treat specific health conditions. This approach recognizes that food has unique medicinal properties and that by tailoring our diets to our specific health needs, we can achieve better health outcomes. This is a cornerstone of most health and wellness practitioners’ fundamental treatment approaches.
Both “food is medicine” and “food as medicine” highlight the importance of nutrition.
Food is Medicine initiatives
In recent years, many governmental and nonprofit charity organizations have been formed around:
- medically tailored meals
- meal prescriptions
- produce prescriptions
- supplemental nutrition assistance programs for healthy foods (SNAP)
On the federal level, the main measure of success for food-is-medicine programs is achieving lower rates of these chronic diseases and improving the quality of life. Most, if not all, federal initiatives are carried out by state governments.
Insurers are aiming for fewer inpatient admissions, readmissions, and lowered healthcare costs. Many are partnering with large grocery companies to deliver food.
On the nonprofit level, the outcomes are happier, healthier and more financially secure communities. Local organizations have been running successful programs with funding from federal and philanthropic groups, a tradition that in the modern era started during the AIDS crisis of the 80s.
Examples of programs
Massachusetts’s Fresh Connect
Type: Food prescription program
Funded by: Boston Medical Center, Mass General Brigham, MassHealth Flexible Services Program, the Rockefeller Foundation, United States Department of Agriculture
Description: Fresh Connect is a food prescription program run by the Boston-based nonprofit About Fresh. Healthcare organizations can prescribe prepaid debit cards to eligible food-insecure patients that can be used to buy healthy foods at participating retailers, and the program collects data to analyze health outcomes and the impact of the program. The prepaid cards are mailed to participants, loaded with a certain amount of money each month, and use smart technology to recognize and pay for eligible healthy foods at checkout. The program aims to improve health outcomes by providing healthy food access to those in need.
Type: Medically tailored or supportive meals, medically tailored or supportive groceries, produce prescriptions, food pharmacies, behavioral, cooking, and/or other nutrition education services
Funded by: Medi-Cal (California’s Medicaid program)
Description: California Advancing and Innovating Medi-Cal (CalAIM) is a commitment to transform and strengthen Medi-Cal by helping Californians maximize their healthspan and quality of life through a coordinated and person-centered approach. As such, CalAIM is the largest food-is-medicine program in the country, covering medically tailored meals for 14.5 million eligible members.
CalAIM provides eligible members with chronic diseases and conditions 2 meals a day, 7 days a week, for 12 weeks.
Independent specialized companies provide the services. An example is Rfoodx by Roots Food Group, which cooks and delivers ready-to-eat medically tailored meals for managing and treating hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes, kidney disease, and heart disease.
Oregon’s Adelante Mujeres Produce Rx
Type: Produce prescription program
Funded by: Providence Community Grants Council, Oregon Community Foundation, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, CareOregon, Spirit Mountain Community Fund, Rockefeller Foundation
Description: The Produce Rx program in Washington County, Oregon is a partnership between Adelante Mujeres and Virginia Garcia Medical Center. Eligible patients of Virginia Garcia’s Cornelius Wellness Center who identify as living at or below the poverty line and are at risk for diet-related diseases can participate in the program, which provides nutrition education and Fresh Connect debit cards worth $6 per family member per week to be used at the Forest Grove Farmers Market from May through October. The program also conducts surveys and interviews to measure outcomes. Participants can receive extra vouchers worth $50 per family per month to account for the rising cost of fresh fruits and vegetables at the farmers market. The program aims to improve health outcomes for low-income patients.
New York’s Corbin Hill Food Project
Type: Produce prescription program
Funded by: Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program Produce Prescription grant from USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA)
Description: The Food as Medicine (FAM) project distributes fresh produce boxes twice a month to low-income and food-insecure patients from Mount Sinai Health System and the Institute for Family Health’s Bronx Health REACH Project in Harlem and the Bronx. Participants pay $2.50 per week, using either SNAP dollars or cash, to receive the $35 value produce boxes. The project aims to reduce healthcare costs and improve health outcomes in underserved, low-income, marginalized populations in primarily black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) and immigrant communities. The project will also collect data to measure the program’s impact and may provide the basis for including food as medicine in Medicaid funding.
Commitments and pledges following the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health
In September of 2022, President Biden hosted the first White House Conference pertaining to hunger, food, and health in over 50 years. The goal was to build a structure around lowering the rates of diet-related diseases, ending hunger, and increasing healthy diets and lifestyles among Americans.
Dohmen Company pledged $75 million to advance its vision of life without diet-related disease. They plan to allocate this budget to three programs:
- Food For health, a Wisconsin public charity providing medically tailored meals, health coaching, and nutrition education to economically disadvantaged populations
- The Food Benefit Company, a social enterprise that will work with companies and corporations to bring their employees nutrition coaching, biometric screening, and fresh food delivery
- a nationwide awareness campaign to promote the concept of food is medicine
Kaiser Permanente has pledged $50 million to support the nationwide food is medicine movement. Their pledge includes some concrete solutions:
- screening over 9 million Kaiser Permanente members for social health needs, including food and nutrition security
- expanding e-commerce solutions for increasing healthy purchasing options for recipients of SNAP
- expanding food is medicine programs, including produce prescriptions (Produce Rx) and medically tailored meals for patients that are recently hospitalized with diet-related diseases
The organization has also launched three extensive medically tailored meal research studies for recently discharged hospital patients with chronic conditions. Since 2020, when the first study was launched, 2100 participants have received more than 116 thousand medically tailored meals through this initiative.
Why Suggestic cares about FIM initiatives
At Suggestic, we use technology and data to help people make hyper-personalized food choices that support their health and well-being. By enabling the “food is medicine” concept, Suggestic empowers individuals to take control of their health by making informed food choices that support their unique health needs.
On the flip side, Suggestic’s technology platform is designed to support healthcare and food providers in their efforts to integrate hyper-personalized nutrition into patient care. By partnering with healthcare organizations and advocating for food is medicine initiatives, Suggestic hopes to help bridge the gap between conventional medicine and nutrition, and facilitate a more holistic approach to healthcare.
Why you should care about FIM, too
Everybody eats. But food is not just a source of fuel or pleasure for our bodies – it can be a powerful tool for improving our health and preventing illness. As such, it is one of the most underutilized tools for health improvement, optimization, and maintenance.
With food as medicine, we can individually take control of our health and improve our quality of life. This means being mindful of what we eat, making healthy choices for our bodies, and seeking professional advice when needed. It also means recognizing the powerful role that food can play in both preventing and treating illness and embracing it as a key component of a healthy lifestyle.
With Suggestic’s innovative platform, the FIM movement is taking a significant step forward. By offering personalized support and nutrition education, the Suggestic platform empowers members to make positive changes to their health and reduce the overall costs of care. With the potential to help millions of people, the Suggestic platform is a game-changer for 21st-century healthcare.