"Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food." - Hippocrates
We’ve all heard the old adage, “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.” While the food-as-medicine movement has been around for years, it has become more prominent in recent years. There’s been a philosophical switch for providers to become health organizations, rather than just healthcare organizations, and doctors and health systems are now using food as a formal part of treatment.
History of food as medicine in healthcare
Research on the power of food to treat or reverse disease has become a popular topic, and much focus has been given to the lack of access to healthy options. Providers can advocate the benefits of a diet full of fruits and vegetables, but getting access to those foods is a different story. A patient can take the time to discuss what they should eat and where to find the proper information, but for every patient who can change their diet and cook healthy, there are dozens that cannot.
For many patients that want to eat healthier, there are barriers preventing them from obtaining a healthy diet. These barriers are ones that physicians alone can’t solve, such as distance to a food market, access to cooking equipment, or money to buy nutritious foods. Healthcare providers and other community service programs, such as food banks, are exploring ways to combat those challenges and bolster the role of healthy food in medical care.
Solutions to food insecurity
One method to solving patient food problems is implementing a medically-tailored meal delivery. Community Servings, an organization in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, has been providing healthy meals to patients with chronic diseases for nearly 30 years. They have worked hard to make nutrition a forefront of the food insecurity movement and have even encouraged some insurers to cover their food deliveries as a medical expense.
Recently, Community Servings was awarded a $358,000 grant so they can analyze the benefits of their program for their patients, many of whom battle HIV-AIDS, cancer, kidney disease, and other serious illnesses, and have severe dietary needs. The study is examining if the patients receiving the meals have lower instances of hospitalizations, fewer ER visits, and decreased health costs compared to similar patients who do not participate in the program.
In addition to meal delivery, there are other programs that focus on school lunches to prevent obesity and other health issues. There are also groups like San Francisco General Hospital who is offering a Therapeutic Food Pantry, where patients can get their prescriptions for fresh fruit, as well as get access to an on-site nutritionist who will educate them about food and how to prepare healthy meals.
Using food to change health outcomes
The positive impact of nutrition on patient health is undeniable. There is an opportunity for healthcare providers, food banks, and community service organizations to work together for the same cause - to not just deliver medical care but to create and foster health. The goal is to get people to understand what they’re eating and the role food plays in their lives. The first step is to make fresh food that can treat and prevent disease accessible and affordable to those who need it.
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