October 13, 2022

Food is Medicine: Treatment that needs policy

September 28 marked a historic moment for nutrition in America as the Biden administration hosted the second-ever Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health with the goal of ending hunger in America by 2030 and addressing how to improve nutrition and – in turn – reduce diet-related diseases and health disparities. As we emerge from a pandemic that shone a light on disparities in access to healthy food and nutrition resources critically needed to manage or recover from critical illness, it was prime time to discuss these topics.

Sue was honored to have attended the Conference in person and represent the Food is Medicine Coalition (FIMC) and MANNA. “I was encouraged by the emphasis that was placed on more fully incorporating medically tailored meals (MTMs) and produce into healthcare as part of the National Strategy released by the administration. Diet-related diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and some forms of cancer are the leading causes of death in the United States. A key way we can break this cycle is to expand access to food and nutrition services for Americans – especially Medicaid and Medicare enrollees who represent some of our most vulnerable populations.”

During the Conference, there was considerable focus on the second pillar of the National Strategy which aims to “prioritize the role of nutrition and food security in overall health and ensure that our health care system addresses the nutrition needs of all people.” Those of us in the room heard from – among others – President Biden, Senator Cory Booker, Representative James McGovern, as well as various health experts and non-profit leaders including Karen Pearl, Chair of FIMC and CEO of God’s Love We Deliver which provides MTMs to people with serious illnesses in the New York metro area.

Their testimonies were a cry for action. The need for nutrition interventions has never been greater, especially as inflation soars and access to healthy foods or services becomes less and less attainable for people in need. MTM plans are tailored to the medical needs of the recipient by a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), and can lead to significantly lower healthcare costs, drastically reduced hospitalizations and increased likelihood of discharge to home, rather than to more costly institutional care.

This Conference has propelled the Food is Medicine conversation onto a national stage and my hope is that it will help to bring about long overdue policy change. Even though medical diets have been prescribed for decades, the current health insurance system does not consistently reimburse for medically tailored meals as part of the treatment process. We are hopeful that government at every level, health insurance companies, and healthcare networks can now take the necessary steps to better prevent, manage, and treat diet-related illnesses.

The notion that nutrition and health are fundamentally linked can no longer be ignored. Every day, hunger and malnutrition cause harm to Americans, especially those with diet-related illness, and cost the country billions of dollars in preventable healthcare spending every year.

The administration faces an uphill battle but armed with our research and a national network of partners to support these efforts, we are closer than ever before to policies that increase access to better nutrition for all.