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Food is Medicine education could save millions of lives and billions of dollars

In the relentless pursuit to enhance public health and curb escalating healthcare costs, experts are advocating the integration of targeted food and nutrition strategies into the national healthcare system. Educating the public that “food is medicine” would be incredibly beneficial to the health care system and human health in general.

A comprehensive report released today from the Food is Medicine Institute at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University delineates the myriad health and economic benefits of such an approach.

Benefits of nutritional intervention

The report, titled “The True Cost of Food: Food is Medicine Case Study”, elucidates the multifaceted benefits stemming from Food is Medicine (FIM) efforts. These are defined as nutritional interventions within the healthcare system aimed at treating or preventing chronic diet-related diseases.

The focus is not solely on amplifying nutritional uptake and enhancing health outcomes but also on alleviating food insecurity and propelling health equity forward.

Research indicates that FIM strategies, such as Medically Tailored Meals (MTMs), can play a pivotal role in averting nearly 1.6 million hospitalizations if nationally implemented in Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurance schemes.

This is especially true for patients grappling with diet-related conditions and constrained in performing daily living activities. Incorporating FIM strategies will not only cut the work for hospitals, but also lead to an estimated net saving of $13.6 billion in healthcare costs in the first year post-implementation.

Augmenting health

Moreover, the initiation of produce prescription programs at a national level for patients battling diabetes and food insecurity has the potential to prevent around 292,000 cardiovascular events. This would ultimately result in an additional 260,000 quality-adjusted life years.

The approach proves to be highly cost-effective from a health perspective, with an incremental cost-effectiveness ratio of $18,100/quality-adjusted life years. It also saves societal costs, registering a net savings of $-0.05 billion.

The untold impact of Food is Medicine

Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, the report’s senior author, a renowned cardiologist, and Director of the Food is Medicine Institute, emphasized the profound impact FIM interventions can have on the escalating death toll, which is around 10,000 weekly in the U.S, and the colossal $1.1 trillion spent annually due to poor diets affecting healthcare and productivity.

Mozaffarian mentioned, “Today’s report further underscores the profound significance of FIM interventions such as medically tailored meals and produce prescriptions, amalgamated with enhanced nutrition education for medical practitioners and insurance coverage for nutritional counseling spearheaded by a qualified dietitian.”

Comprehensive approach

This report underscores the pressing need to exploit the potential of FIM to its fullest. The research team proposed myriad national policy solutions focusing on the enhancement of infrastructure, creation of opportunities and funding, and bolstering of the United States Department of Agriculture nutrition programs.

Devon Klatell, Vice President, Food Initiative at The Rockefeller Foundation, accentuated the importance of comprehending the real costs of our food system, encompassing environmental, occupational, and health impacts, which are often overlooked.

Klatell said, “This report can guide governments, corporations, and consumers in appreciating the worth of Food is Medicine interventions by contemplating not merely the price of food but also the return on investment in upgraded health outcomes.”

In summary, the Food is Medicine initiative posits a revolutionary approach in intertwining nutrition science with healthcare strategies, offering promise in improving quality of life, reducing hospital workloads, and cutting healthcare costs.

It’s a call to action for governments, corporations, and consumers to reconsider food values and to embrace nutritional interventions for the betterment of public health and societal well-being. With concerted efforts from all sectors, the potential of Food is Medicine interventions can be unlocked, paving the way for a healthier and more equitable society.

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