Food is Medicine Interventions
Food is Medicine interventions consist of healthy foods that are tailored to meet specific needs of individuals living with or at risk for serious health conditions affected by diet.
Lack of reliable access to sufficient, nutritious food is a key driver to health outcomes and related costs for Massachusetts residents. Food is Medicine refers to a spectrum of services and health interventions that recognize and respond to the critical link between nutrition and chronic illness. Although Food is Medicine interventions often target food insecure populations, they are distinct from broader hunger safety net because of their focus on nutrition for chronic disease prevention, management, and treatment. A growing number of health care payers (i.e., public and private health insurers), providers (i.e., physicians, nurses, dietitians), and health systems (i.e., hospitals, community health centers) are now exploring how they can integrate Food is Medicine interventions into patient-centered models of care for individuals living with or at risk for complex chronic illnesses.
Improving access to nutrition safety net programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) can help combat food insecurity. However, for individuals coping with or at risk for chronic health conditions, these programs may not go far enough in preventing or treating illness.
By addressing nutritional needs within the context of health care, Food is Medicine interventions play an important role in preventing and/or managing many of the chronic conditions that drive health care costs across the Commonwealth, including: diabetes, cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, certain cancers, HIV, and more.
State Plan Food is Medicine Intervention Definitions
Medically Tailored Meals
Medically tailored meals are the most intensive Food is Medicine intervention. Medically tailored meals are meals designed by a registered dietician nutritionist based on a nutritional assessment and referral from a health care provider or health plan. These meals address a medical diagnosis with the goal of ensuring the best possible health outcomes. Typically, meals are prepared and home-delivered.
Following the dissemination of the State Plan’s surveys, the national Food is Medicine Coalition released a new definition of medically-tailored meals in January 2019. According to the Food is Medicine Coalition, “medically tailored meals are delivered to individuals living with severe illness through a referral from a medical professional or healthcare plan. Meal plans are tailored to the medical needs of the recipient by a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), and are designed to improve health outcomes, lower cost of care and increase patient satisfaction.”
Medically Tailored Food
Medically tailored food is a package of non-prepared, grocery items selected by a registered dietitian nutritionist or other qualified nutrition professional as part of a treatment plan for an individual with a defined medical diagnosis. The recipient of medically tailored food should be capable of picking up the food and preparing it at home.
Produce Prescription/Voucher Programs
Vouchers for free or discounted produce, sometimes called “prescriptions,” are distributed by health care providers to address a patient’s specific health condition and are redeemed at retail grocers, farmers’ markets, or within Community Supported Agriculture programs.
Population-Level Health Food Programs
These anti-hunger programs partner with health care providers to distribute generally healthy food to any patient, regardless of health status. The food is not explicitly tailored for any specific diagnosis.
FIM Case Studies and Regional Snapshots
The State Plan includes regional snapshots that provide a detailed examinations of Food is Medicine considerations within seven regions of Massachusetts. Case studies of food and nutrition services and programs illustrate the variety of Food is Medicine interventions available across the state.
National Food is Medicine Advocacy
Food is Medicine Coalition
The Food is Medicine Coalition (FIMC) is a coalition of nonprofit, medically tailored food and nutrition services providers from across the country. The goal of FIMC is to advocate for public policy that supports access to food and nutrition services for people with critical and chronic illnesses. Learn more about FIMC and how to get involved.
Wholesome Wave empowers people struggling with hunger to make better food choices by increasing affordable access to healthy produce. The pilot, perfect, and scale programs like Wholesome Rx that make produce affordable for Americans who need it most. Wholesome Wave is one leading expert in produce prescription programs nationally.