June 15, 2022

Ending Hunger and Improving Healthy Living at Upcoming White House Conference

Diet-related illnesses are some of the leading causes of death in the United States and disproportionately impact underserved communities. Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit our country two years ago, it has highlighted persistent challenges and inequities in access to nutritional food and healthcare, resulting in poorer health outcomes across our society.

Last month, President Biden announced a White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health that will be held in September 2022. The first in more than 50 years, this conference will bring together key stakeholders, including the Food is Medicine Coalition (FIMC), to present strategies to address nutrition insecurity and diet-related chronic diseases that affect millions of Americans. The return of this conference has come at a critical time: we need transformative change in how nutrition is viewed to help improve public health and for a wider understanding of the value of Food as Medicine.

As outlined by the Food is Medicine Coalition (FIMC), research has shown that medically tailored meals (MTMs) are one of the least expensive and most effective ways to improve our healthcare system in an equitable way. Those who receive MTMs have 70% reduction rate in emergency department visits; a 72% reduction rate in admission to skilled nursing facilities; a 52% reduction rate in inpatient hospital admissions; and a 16% decrease in healthcare costs receiving the service over a 5-year period.

To prepare for the Conference, the FIMC has put forth a set of recommendations to drive solutions and policy changes to increase availability of MTMs:

  • Modernize Medicare and Medicaid to Make MTMs a Fully Reimbursable Benefit for People Living with Severe Illness: Legislators need to reinterpret the sections of the Social Security Act governing Medicaid and Medicare to include medically tailored nutrition as a benefit that is covered in the same way as prescription drugs.
  • Fully fund and implement large-scale MTM pilots in the Medicare and Medicaid programs: Implementing large-scale pilot programs to broaden the integration of MTMs into healthcare delivery.
  • Expand Research on MTMs: Despite the sufficient evidence detailing the efficacy of MTM meals, larger studies need to happen to fully understand their effects on various populations and densities of service.
  • Promote universal screening for food insecurity and malnutrition: Being able to be proactive in identifying food insecurity and malnutrition in clinical settings is crucial.
  • Increase nutrition education among healthcare providers: Despite often being the most important voice in individuals’ nutritional health, doctors often are not properly trained in nutrition science during their time in medical school.
  • Further build medical coding of food insecurity malnutrition, and their treatments: There are gaps in healthcare that need to be addressed to allow organizations to properly bill and code for nutrition interventions.
  • Modernize Healthcare Regulations: Often times the uncertainty around the application of healthcare regulations can create barriers to delivering MTMs to individuals who need them the most.

Over the past 30 years, MANNA has been delivering MTMs to those battling a serious illness across the Philadelphia region. Although we recently served our 20 millionth meal, we always want to help more people that aren’t having their nutritional health requirements met. If these recommendations are addressed by legislators, it will go a long way towards allowing those individuals who need nutritional meals and counseling that access to help improve their health.

We certainly can’t expect all of our nation’s health issues to be fixed immediately this September, however the return of the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health is a step in the right direction and a sign that our lawmakers are ready to listen to how we can improve our public health. As an organization rooted in providing MTMs and nutritional education to empower people to improve their health and quality of life, MANNA is proud to stand alongside our FIMC colleagues across the country in advocating for and implementing real solutions to address these challenges and be part of the change the world needs to see.