“Food is Medicine” Strategies Hold Potential to Save Billions in Healthcare Costs, Experts Say

by Ella

Integrating targeted food and nutrition initiatives into the national healthcare system has the potential to enhance health and quality of life, alleviate the burden on hospitals, and significantly reduce healthcare expenditures, according to experts investigating “Food is Medicine” (FIM) approaches. The substantial health and economic advantages of this approach are elucidated in a report unveiled today by researchers at the Food is Medicine Institute, housed at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, with support from The Rockefeller Foundation.

The report, titled “The True Cost of Food: Food is Medicine Case Study,” quantifies the potential benefits of FIM efforts. These efforts encompass nutrition interventions grounded in food, integrated into healthcare systems to address or prevent chronic diet-related diseases. In recent years, FIM has demonstrated potential not only to enhance nutrition and health outcomes but also to combat food insecurity and foster health equity.


Research data presented in the report underscore that the nationwide implementation of Medically Tailored Meals (MTMs) within Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurance for patients dealing with both diet-related conditions and limited capacity for daily activities could avert approximately 1.6 million hospitalizations. Furthermore, this implementation is estimated to yield a net savings of $13.6 billion in healthcare costs within the first year, after accounting for implementation expenses.


Additionally, the report reveals that the nationwide rollout of produce prescription programs for patients contending with diabetes and food insecurity could prevent 292,000 cardiovascular events and contribute 260,000 quality-adjusted life years— a measure of how well a treatment enhances or extends patients’ lives. Importantly, this initiative proves highly cost-effective from a healthcare perspective, with an incremental cost-effectiveness ratio of $18,100 per quality-adjusted life year. It also yields cost savings from a societal standpoint, amounting to $-0.05 billion.


The report’s senior author, Dariush Mozaffarian, a cardiologist and Director of the Food is Medicine Institute, underscores the potential of FIM interventions such as medically tailored meals and produce prescriptions. These, combined with physician nutrition education and insurance coverage for nutrition counseling provided by registered dietitians, have the potential to make a tangible difference. Mozaffarian notes the substantial impact of these interventions on the 10,000 weekly deaths in the United States and the annual expenditure of 1.1 trillion dollars in healthcare costs and lost productivity attributable to poor dietary choices.


This report emerges following the historic White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health in September 2022, along with the accompanying National Strategy on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health, both of which underscored the imperative of harnessing the potential of Food is Medicine. The report offers insights into various potential national policy solutions, broadly categorized as infrastructure development, opportunities generation, funding, and strengthening United States Department of Agriculture nutrition programs.

Devon Klatell, Vice President of the Food Initiative at The Rockefeller Foundation, underscores the often-overlooked costs of the food system, including environmental impacts, labor conditions, and effects on health, healthcare spending, and health equity. Klatell emphasizes the importance of evaluating the value of Food is Medicine interventions not just in terms of the cost of food but also by considering the return on investment in improved health outcomes. The Rockefeller Foundation is committed to collaborating with all sectors to further enhance collective understanding of the potential of Food is Medicine initiatives.

The findings presented in this report are based on two separate studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals. The first study, “Association of National Expansion of Insurance Coverage of Medically Tailored Meals With Estimated Hospitalizations and Health Care Expenditures in the US,” evaluates the health and economic impact of expanding the national implementation of MTMs. The second study, “Health and Economic Impacts of Implementing Produce Prescription Programs for Diabetes in the United States: A Microsimulation Study,” assesses the health and economic implications of expanding national produce prescription programs for adults with diabetes and food insecurity.



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