Incorporating targeted food and nutrition strategies into healthcare on a national level will improve health and quality of life, reduce work for hospitals, and cut healthcare costs, according to experts studying Food is Medicine (FIM) efforts.
The health and economic benefits of this approach are detailed in a report out today from researchers at the Food is Medicine Institute at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, through support from The Rockefeller Foundation.
The True Cost of Food: Food is Medicine Case Study quantifies the potential health and economic benefits of FIM efforts, which refer to food-based nutrition interventions integrated into the healthcare system to treat or prevent chronic diet-related disease. This approach has shown promise in recent years for not just boosting nutrition and improving health outcomes, but also for reducing food insecurity and increasing health equity.
According to research data presented in the report, national implementation of Medically Tailored Meals (MTMs) in Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurance for patients with both a diet-related condition and limited ability to perform activities of daily living could avert approximately 1.6 million hospitalizations and result in an estimated net savings of $13.6 billion in health care costs in the first year alone, after accounting for implementation costs.
Further, the report shows that national implementation of produce prescription programs for patients with both diabetes and food insecurity could avert 292,000 cardiovascular events and add 260,000 quality-adjusted life years—a measure of how well a treatment lengthens or improves patients’ lives—while being highly cost effective from a health perspective (based on an incremental cost-effectiveness ratio of $18,100/quality-adjusted life years) and cost saving from a societal perspective (based on a net savings of $-0.05 billion).
“Today’s report further demonstrates how FIM interventions like medically tailored meals and produce prescriptions, combined with nutrition education for doctors and insurance coverage of nutrition counseling provided by a registered dietitian, could make a real difference in the 10,000 weekly U.S. deaths and $1.1 trillion in annual healthcare spending and lost productivity due to poor diets,” says the report’s senior author, Dariush Mozaffarian, a cardiologist and Director of the Food is Medicine Institute.