May 11, 2023

Keeping Food is Medicine at the Forefront of Conversations

We are at a pivotal moment in the Food is Medicine movement. Last September, the White House convened only the second in history (and first in 50 years) Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health, providing a platform to highlight the power of medically tailored meals and nutrition counseling. The research demonstrating the effectiveness of medically tailored meals is clear. Access to proper nutrition, especially those at acute nutritional risk from serious illness, can lower healthcare costs and reduce hospitalizations. We must keep these conversations and support of policy efforts around coverage for medically tailored meals at the forefront of our work.

By hosting or participating in national and regional events such as the White House Conference and the MANNA-hosted Legislative Open House in December, we have the opportunity to further the conversation on the importance of making medically tailored meals a standard benefit under public health plans. Last month, MANNA representatives participated in three important events to discuss MANNA’s services, the importance of similar Food is Medicine efforts, and the field’s impact on healthcare outcomes and costs.

Nutrition Roundtable with Assistant Secretary for Health, Admiral Rachel L. Levine, MD

On April 21, MANNA’s Director of Nutrition & Client Services, Nicole Laverty, RDN, LDN, attended a nutrition roundtable with US Assistant Secretary for Health, Admiral Rachel L. Levine, MD. At the roundtable, Nicole was part of discussions centered around hunger and nutrition policy, nutritional trends, how to work more holistically with clients, and what role the federal government can play in these topics. The attendees included representatives from Philadelphia Corporation for Aging, Philabundance, Philadelphia School District, The Food Trust, Share Food Program, Mazzoni Center, Bebashi, Garces Foundation, and The Philadelphia Department of Health and Human Services.

Nicole highlighted the important role of Food as Medicine programs and the need for more support to provide equitable access to services like MANNA’s. She also discussed H.R. 5370 — The Medically Tailored Home-Delivered Meal Demonstration Pilot Act of 2021 and stressed support for the reintroduction of this bill to bring it to fruition. Lastly, Nicole talked about the various research projects being spearheaded by The MANNA Institute and how the data and outcomes from these projects are catalysts for expanding MANNA’s services in order to help more individuals.

Food is Medicine National Summit: Transforming Healthcare

On April 26, I attended and participated in the Food Is Medicine (FIM) National Summit, hosted by The Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy and the Food & Nutrition Innovation Institute at Tufts University. The Summit was supported by Kaiser Permanente, Bia-Echo Foundation, the HAND Foundation, Seeding the Future, and The Rockefeller Foundation.

The FIM Summit brought together more than 225 in-person and over 1,000 online healthcare system leaders, providers, investors, policymakers, and patients with lived experience. The schedule featured keynote speakers, panel discussions, and conversations centered around reimbursable, food-based health interventions.

My panel “How Community Centered Programs are Building the Infrastructure” explored how community-based Food is Medicine programs — like MANNA — serve as a key source of best practices and evidence to inform larger scale expansion. It was exciting to be in a room where the conversation was focused on how to implement medically tailored meals into our healthcare systems and not why medically tailored meals are needed. There is increasing focus on food-based nutrition interventions in healthcare, however most of these interventions are part of disease prevention strategies. In contrast, medically tailored meals are finally being recognized as a critical component of disease treatment and we must continue to lead the way for this service to become a covered benefit under health insurance.

Local Roundtable with Congresswoman Mary Gay Scanlon

On May 3, MANNA’s Nutrition & Client Services Manager, Tonya Cooper, RDN, LDN participated in a roundtable aimed at investigating the impact of February’s end of SNAP Emergency Allotments on local communities in the Greater Philadelphia area. Hosted by Congresswoman Mary Gay Scanlon, members from nonprofit agencies including MANNA, Philabundance, the Southeast Asian Mutual Assistance Association Coalition (SEAMAAC), Delaware County of Aging, Delaware WIC, and others convened to generate deeper understanding around the end of this policy, which caused an estimated two million Pennsylvanians to lose an average of $181 a month in nutrition assistance. Unsurprisingly, in March of this year, we saw a 26% increase in referrals to our program.

Tonya emphasized that, while MANNA’s program covers acute nutritional needs as a result of serious illness, in the last few years we have seen an uptick in clients with chronic conditions that will require a lifetime of nutritional support. Since the onset of COVID-19, MANNA has sustained a 40% increase in clients served annually. A growing percentage of these clients live with chronic conditions such as end-stage renal disease and severe diabetes. Nearly all our clients (95%) are low-income. As Tonya explained to Congresswoman Scanlon, providing medically tailored meals as a universal, covered benefit within healthcare would allow for more equitable, sustainable, long-term access to this vital treatment resource for more critically ill clients in need.


Each month, we are another step closer to informing and, hopefully soon establishing, policies that increase access to better and proper nutrition for all. We will continue to host, lead, and participate in events to highlight the importance of medically tailored meals, educate and learn from our peers, gather evidence, and advocate for the change we need to see in our healthcare system.