Despite its humble beginnings, the “food as medicine” principle that MANNA’s system is based on is finally beginning to be recognized and acted on by our policymakers. A fact sheet published in July by the Union of Concerned Scientists reports that the new Farm Bill includes a program that will use healthy food access to help prevent chronic illnesses and reduce medical costs.
The report comments that the American diet, typically high in meats, sugars, and processed foods and low in fresh fruits and vegetables, has led to the highest spending in health care of any country in the world. Most of our medical spending is on chronic illnesses, many of which could be prevented by improved diets. However, prevention and treatment is not as simple as just telling people to change their diets. The U.S. food system makes it very difficult for many people to access healthy foods, given that most low-income communities lack stores that sell fresh fruits and vegetables, and those that do often sell them at unaffordable prices.
The 2014 Farm Bill begins to address this problem with a program called the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI), which offers grant funding to community organizations working to secure affordable access to healthy foods. FINI requires that organizations match these federal funds with contributions from other sources. The report by the Union of Concerned Scientists suggests hospitals supply the match, using The Affordable Care Act requirement for community benefit initiatives. FINI provides the opportunity for health care facilities and healthy food initiatives to collaborate, all in the name of improving health and reducing health care costs.
At MANNA, we support initiatives like this that break down the perceived barrier between health care and food. While MANNA is not a preventative service that would fit under FINI, we do work in the same realm, using food as an integral part of a treatment plan. Healthy food is critical to a healthy life and we hope to see more progressive legislation in the future that builds on the understanding that food is medicine.
This post is by Kelly McGlynn, rising senior at Brown University and former Advocacy & Health Policy Intern at MANNA.