March 16, 2023

National Nutrition Month®: Looking Back at the Last 30 Years of Nutrition and Forward to a Healthier Future

March marks National Nutrition Month® — an annual campaign created by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics to educate Americans about the value of nutrition — and this year’s theme of Fuel for the Future focuses on creating healthy habits that are sustainable and celebrate people’s unique needs. Poor nutrition is a leading cause of illness in the U.S., with a disproportionate effect on certain socioeconomic groups.  The observance of National Nutrition Month each year brings heightened awareness of food, nutrition, and health issues to communities across the country.

Addressing these issues has been at the core of our work at MANNA for more than three decades. During that time, our team of registered dietitians, chefs, drivers, and thousands of volunteers has strived to improve the health and well-being of our clients battling serious illnesses by preparing, packaging, and delivering medically tailored meals (MTMs) and providing personalized nutrition counseling. Throughout our journey, MANNA and the Food is Medicine Coalition (FIMC) have continued to advocate for policy change for MTMs to be recognized as treatment and be a covered benefit at the state and federal level.


Looking Back at the Last 30 Years

MANNA was founded during the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and we have always understood and believed in the idea of prescribing nutritious foods to patients suffering from chronic illnesses to improve their health and quality of life. Since our founding, we have provided nourishment to our critically ill neighbors; and, as our knowledge of utilizing Food as Medicine deepened, our program evolved to include MTMs and nutrition counseling.


After recognizing the widespread need for our services, MANNA began serving anyone at nutritional risk due to critical illness in 2006. Since then, MANNA has served clients with more than 127 primary diseases. Our program has improved the health and quality of life of more than 40,000 of our Philadelphia-area neighbors with more than 21,000,000 medically nourishing meals served. Every day, we witness firsthand the effect proper nutrition has on those who need it most. Here are just a few of MANNA’s milestones:


  • 1999: With the advancements of HIV medications, MANNA shifted from comfort care to treatment
  • 2006: MANNA expanded to serve all illnesses that require nutrition to heal and was the first organization to provide complete nutrition of 21 meals per week
  • 2013: MANNA published first-of-its-kind research showing the impact that MTMs and nutrition education have on health outcomes and reduction in healthcare costs
  • 2015: MANNA signed its first contract with a health insurer to receive reimbursement for MTMs and nutrition education for clients
  • 2019: MANNA launched the MANNA Institute to support more data in the field of MTMs and nutrition education


In particular, the latter half of 2022 was significant for MANNA and our mission to improve the health of those we serve. In September, MANNA participated in the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health, showing the support of launching an effort to increase the number of Medicaid pilot programs and passage of federal legislation that would allow traditional Medicare plans to offer MTMs as a reimbursable medical expense. A new study in JAMA Network Open – Association of National Expansion of Insurance Coverage of Medically Tailored Meals with Estimated Hospitalizations and Healthcare Expenditures in the US – was released in October, revealing that economic modeling showed that MTMs are associated with lower costs of care for patients with diet-related illness and activity limitations. The study demonstrates the power of MTMs if implemented nationwide: 1.5M fewer hospitalizations and a net cost savings of $13.6 billion in the first year. Finally, in December, MANNA hosted a Legislative Open House that was cohosted by Representative Donna Bullock and Congressman Dwight Evans, which included a discussion of MANNA’s mission, services, and our impact on healthcare outcomes and costs. From this Open House, Representative Donna Bullock is putting forth a proposal to push for a Medically Tailored Meals Pilot Program that will allow hospitals to provide eligible medical assistance beneficiaries with these prescribed meals and nutrition counseling.


Approaching A Healthier Future

Every March, we look forward to National Nutrition Month® as another opportunity to spread the word that Food is Medicine. The Food is Medicine movement has gained so much momentum over the years, and now it’s making its way into mainstream medicine. National attention is focused on MTMs and our urgent work is more important than ever, especially at a time when food insecurity is high and access to care is low for so many. Our research shows that MTMs lower healthcare costs, improve health outcomes, and keep our neighbors living with an illness out of the hospital.


Each day, we are one step closer to policies that increase access to better nutrition for all. We will continue to establish new partnerships, lead and participate in new research studies that support our Food is Medicine mission, and serve as an advocate for all who require nutrition to heal, now and in the future, so that one day we have a healthcare system that recognizes the effects of and takes action to facilitate proper nutrition for all.