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HHS Launches 3 Public-Private Partnerships for Food Is Medicine Efforts

The partnerships with Instacart, the Rockefeller Foundation, and Feeding America will focus on research on and implementation of food is medicine programs nationwide.

HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra used last week’s Food is Medicine summit to unveil three new public-private partnerships with Instacart, the Rockefeller Foundation, and Feeding America, all with the purpose of improving the nation’s nutrition to advance better health and well-being.

The first-ever summit also featured panels USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack; members of the US Congress; Danielle Carnival, the deputy director for Health Outcomes at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy; Chef Sean Sherman; and Dr. Maria Rosario Jackson, the chair of the National Endowment.

The concept of food is medicine is gaining steam in the healthcare industry. Distinct from food insecurity, which looks at whether an individual has enough to eat, food is medicine embraces the idea that the nutritional value of one’s food can affect their health outcomes. This is important for diet-related illnesses, like diabetes or heart disease, and also for overall well-being.

Common food is medicine programs include produce prescriptions and medically tailored meals.

During the Food is Medicine summit at the White House, held on January 31, Becerra and colleagues outlined the five principles that will shape the work out of HHS, including:

  • Recognizing that nourishment is essential for good health, wellbeing, and resilience. 
  • Facilitating easy access to healthy food across the health continuum in the community. 
  • Cultivating understanding of the relationship between nutrition and health. 
  • Uniting partners with diverse assets to build sustained and integrated solutions.
  • Investing in the capacity of under-resourced communities.

As a part of the summit, Becerra also unveiled the public-private partnerships with Instacart, the Rockefeller Foundation, and Feeding America. Together, HHS and its partners will be able to share research about food is medicine and outline new food is medicine programs nationwide.

HHS said the Rockefeller Foundation will help it research the clinical impact of food is medicine programs, especially within traditionally underserved populations.

“We know good food is the foundation of good health, and study after study has found Food is Medicine interventions can make people healthier while reducing health care costs,” Dr. Rajiv J. Shah, President of The Rockefeller Foundation, said in a statement about the partnership. “I am proud The Rockefeller Foundation will be collaborating with HHS to help improve health outcomes and advance health equity by ensuring Food is Medicine interventions reach those who stand to benefit from them most.”

Leaders from Feeding America said this new strategic direction will help support the 501(c)3’s existing work.

“With this partnership, HHS is recognizing the work that Feeding America network food banks are doing in communities around the country to help improve health through food and nutrition,” Vince Hall, Feeding America chief government relations officer, said in its own press release about the deal.

“This agreement will help accelerate Feeding America’s ongoing efforts to evaluate its ‘Food Is Medicine’ programs to reduce hunger while improving nutrition and health outcomes, and builds upon solutions outlined in the Biden Administration’s National Strategy on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health released last year,” Hall continued.

Meanwhile, Instacart will be instrumental in supporting rollout of different food is medicine interventions, which the organization clarified it has been engaged in for some time through its Instacart Health vertical.

“At Instacart, we believe in the power of food as medicine, which is why we’re building new technologies, advancing research, and advocating for policies that make it as easy for providers to prescribe food as it is to prescribe medicine,” Dani Dudeck, Chief Corporate Affairs Officer at Instacart, stated publicly.

“Instacart shares HHS’s unwavering commitment to improving health through the power of food, and we’re proud to launch this public-private partnership with the agency to expand access to nutritious food and improve health outcomes,” Dudeck added. “Together, we can ensure the food as medicine movement reaches every family and community across the country.”

The healthcare industry has been getting more enthusiastic about food is medicine programming in recent years. Healthcare organizations across the country are launching food is medicine interventions while more research is showing they can work.

In July 2023, researchers from the Tufts University Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy showed that produce prescription programs could cut some $40 billion in healthcare spending. The study also showed produce prescription programs offered to people ages 40 to 79 with diabetes or food insecurity could generate a whopping 260,000 quality-adjusted life years (QALYs, or years spent living in good health).

A separate study from Tufts also showed that produce prescription programs can improve health outcomes. The team reported that a produce prescription program increased nutritious food intake, cut food insecurity, and improved clinical outcomes like reducing hbA1C and hypertension.

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