During the panel “Resetting the Table to Ensure Equitable Access to Nourishing and Sustainable Food,” stakeholders from across the value chain shared how nutrition insecurity disproportionately impacts select communities and how strategic production, procurement and distribution of food as medicine can to address some of the structural challenges associated with inequitable access to nutrition, health and wealth building.
“The scale of the impact of poor nutrition on health is something that affects every American household today, and what we eat is not the No. 1 driver of poor health outcomes and death around the world, including in the United States,” where 140 million Americans suffer from obesity and diabetes rates have tripled in the past 30 years, Devon Klatel, vice president, nutrition initiative at the Rockefeller Foundation, told attendees.
But, she added, “the negative effects of a poor diet are not equally shared. A number of groups in this country are disproportionately affected, and that includes black Americans, Hispanics, indigenous peoples, Pacific Islanders, but also rural communities, veterans, low-income communities, and those particularly affected by food insecurity.
Disparities in impact are due in part to “availability due to various structural reasons, [with] healthy food often [costing] more than ultra-processed foods,” explained Kevin Volpe, director of the Penn Center for Health Promotion and Behavioral Economics.
“For many people, even if they want to eat more healthy food, they can’t afford it. And part of what we need to figure out is how to build evidence of what’s effective and what’s cost-effective, because ultimately we’re going to pay for that either up front or down the road in higher medical costs.” , he said.
Improving equity with food as medicine
As Steven Chen, chief medical officer at Alameda County Recipe4Health in California, explained during the panel discussion, food-as-medicine programs can address the inherent inequity of food insecurity and its health consequences for people and the planet by intentionally sourcing food that is better sustainable from farmers and agricultural stakeholders who have traditionally been excluded from the system.
“We have an opportunity for food as medicine to create a health equity approach that is actually accessible to all, many of our technological and medical interventions, sin can sometimes create more inequities. When we ask this question of where food comes from and how it is grown, we are really asking the question of connecting health care with agriculture in the supply chain and between them. And when you do that and if you prioritize agriculture in a way that’s good for the planet, from an organic and regenerative platform, and with farmers that have been excluded from the system and the supply chain that has been closed off from the system with capital center you can get incredible health multipliers that lead to health equity and those multipliers, other things we see in the exam room, human health, improving higher nutrient density, quality food through regenerative and organic food,” said he.
He added that the win is not just about medicine, “it’s really about the economic health, the environment and the wealth building that can happen when you localize food systems in the food supply at the local level.”
He explained: “We spend 4.1 trillion a year treating chronic diseases and whatnot. 3.7 trillion of them, or 90% of them, are chronic diseases. This is what we do in primary care. Imagine taking some of that health care dollar and investing it in the food and agriculture system that can drive our food transformation … if we ask this right question: Where does food come from?”
By investing in food as medicine as a proactive health benefit and redirecting health savings to support regenerative and organic agriculture, greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture and food can be reduced – benefiting the health of the planet, he said.
Also, he argued, if food for food like drug programs is delivered by BIPOC providers, “we create equity and … economic health, and then we get higher quality food for our patients who are in our federally qualified health centers. “
Sarah Fleisch, senior director, policy research and development at Instacart, also shared how the grocery delivery service is addressing inequality through food as medicine, increasing access through delivery and expanding payment options to include financial support from the government and insurance programs that help cover grocery bills. Through Instacart Health, the company is also able to make healthy choices the easy choice, facilitate food-as-medicine programs and help consumers further stretch and manage their budgets.
To learn how else the food-as-medicine movement can help address inequality, view on demand the full panel discussion “Resetting the Table to Ensure Equitable Access to Nourishing and Sustainable Food,” which was part of Futureproofing The Food System of FoodNavigator-USA. Registration is free and easy.