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Statement by Dr. Rajiv J. Shah, President of The Rockefeller Foundation, and Nancy Brown, CEO of the American Heart Association, on New Food Is Medicine Research Initiative

Good food is the foundation of good health. Unfortunately, for far too many Americans — especially Black, Latino/a, and Native Americans — affordable, nutritious food is out of reach. The negative effects of this are evident: Chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease, stroke, and diabetes, are among the leading causes of death in the United States, disproportionately affecting BIPOC and low-income communities. Heart disease and stroke cost the U.S. health care system $216 billion annually and cause $147 billion in lost job productivity.

For those reasons, The Rockefeller Foundation and the American Heart Association, with inaugural partner Kroger, announced today at the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health a plan to mobilize $250 million to build a national Food is Medicine Research Initiative. Launching in spring of 2023, this Initiative will generate evidence and tools to help the health sector design and scale programs that increase access to nutritious food, improve both health and health equity, and reduce overall health care costs.

This research will build on several studies and pilot projects that have revealed the promise of Food Is Medicine interventions, including:

  • A recent report found that interventions such as produce prescriptions and medically tailored meals can improve food security and are correlated with meaningful improvements in key health markers such as body mass index and blood pressure.
  • A national simulation study by Tufts University modeled that a 30% subsidy for fruit and vegetable purchases via Medicare and Medicaid would prevent nearly 2 million CVD events and more than 300,000 premature deaths from CVD, while saving $40 billion in health care costs over the lifetimes of current enrollees.
  • And forthcoming research from Duke University, funded by The Rockefeller Foundation, that reveals both patients and providers found value in Food is Medicine programs.

To unlock the potential of Food Is Medicine — and make it a regular and reimbursable component of Americans’ health care — we must build on this existing scientific evidence.  New research can help inform the development of more impactful health care policy that improves individual health markers, lowers insurance costs, and is feasible in practice. The role that government plays in our health care delivery system through agencies like the Veterans Health Administration or programs like Medicaid and Medicare is also critical — and we applaud the White House’s National Strategy on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health, which includes recommendations for Food is Medicine.

Working with patients and partners in government, academia, health care, industry, and community-based organizations, the Food is Medicine Research Initiative will accelerate public understanding and use of these programs as an integral part of the health care system.  With this Initiative, The Rockefeller Foundation and American Heart Association are building the sort of public-private partnership essential to unlocking solutions to some of our most complex challenges. But we know we cannot realize the promise of Food is Medicine alone. We are eager to work with partners from every field to equitably scale these solutions. Together, we can make all American lives healthier, fuller, and better.

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