Tufts University steps up efforts to grow the ‘food like medicine’ movement

Millions of Americans are affected by food insecurity and suffer from diet-related diseases, including cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes. While many of the factors that cause disease are genetic, , other factors are more controllable, especially nutrition—the focus of the growing “food as medicine” field. Dr. Fang Fang Zhangassociate professor and interim chair of the Department of Nutritional Epidemiology and Data Science at Tufts’ Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, discusses the school’s goals and what the researchers say as she is doing to accomplish that goal.

Can you share some of the Friedman School’s work goals tied to food, nutrition, and health?

One priority is to put science into action: bringing cutting-edge, actionable policy evidence, strategies and interventions to policymakers and other stakeholders to help address the nutritional crisis. nursing. Recently, some of our faculty members led the creation of an independent, bipartisan task force that made recommendations to inform the Second White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health. held in September. The most recent such conference was in 1969, chaired by Jean Mayer, founder of the Friedman School. It was a landmark event that had a significant and lasting impact on reducing hunger in the United States. The school will continue to support the national strategies outlined at this year’s conference: improving nutrition, reducing diet-related diseases, and addressing equity through excellence in research. research, education and policy advocacy.

Your research focuses on the relationship of nutrition to cancer and outcomes. What are you most optimistic about?

Various factors contribute to cancer risk. These include host factors, such as our age and genes; environmental factors, such as pollution, radiation and infections; and diet and lifestyle factors. Some of these risk factors are modifiable and therefore preventable. We have estimated that about 5% of new cancer cases each year in the United States are caused by poor diet, including low consumption of whole grains, dairy foods, vegetables, and fruits, and low consumption of whole grains. lots of processed and red meat and sugar-sweetened beverages. This means that more than 80,000 new cancer cases each year in our country are preventable.

You are also joining a team investigating the benefits of producing prescription programs. Can you discuss how they work?

Prescription manufacturing involves clinicians providing guidance and support to patients in accessing healthy products for disease prevention and management. With support from the Rockefeller Foundation and Kaiser Permanente, we recently completed a review of nine prescribing programs involving more than 1,800 children and 2,000 adults at risk for poor metabolic cardiovascular disease. In these programs, patients are referred by healthcare providers for an incentive coupon or recharge card. Patients can redeem vouchers or use the card to buy fruit and vegetables at local grocery stores or farmers markets. Significant increases in fruit and vegetable intake as well as reductions in household food insecurity were observed after participation. In addition, significant improvements in cardiovascular metabolic health were noted in the participating adults, such as reductions in hemoglobin A1c and systolic and diastolic blood pressure.

How can healthcare leaders help promote the “food is medicine” movement in their organizations?

Hospitals can integrate food and nutrition insecurity screening into electronic health records and include referrals of eligible patients for “food as medicine” services as part of clinical care. Leaders can also take advantage of existing opportunities to pay for services like prescription manufacturing and medically appropriate meals in federal health plans. For example, state Medicaid agencies may use authorities such as the Section 1115 Proving Waiver to examine the impact of providing coverage for those programs or licensing them. Medicaid managed care to pay for “food is medicine” programs.

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