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Can Providers Make an Impact With Food as Medicine Strategies?

Analysis  |  By Eric Wicklund  
   July 01, 2024

Abbott and the National Association of Community Health Centers and partnering on a national effort to develop and launch innovative programs that use healthy eating and nutrition to combat chronic diseases and other health concerns.

Eight health centers across the country have been selected to test innovative “food as medicine” strategies as part of a national effort aimed at helping providers to integrate nutrition into their care plans.

The Innovation Incubator, launched by Abbott and the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC), will give each health center $30,000 to develop new programs over the next six months. The goal is to create new strategies that can be adopted by the network of 1,400 health centers across the country, as well as other health systems and hospital looking to address a key social determinant of health.

"Food insecurity severely impacts the health of underinvested communities," NACHC President and CEO Kyu Rhee, MD, MPP, said in a press release. "As the nation's largest primary care network, health centers' highly effective and innovative integrated model of care reaches beyond the walls of the traditional exam room to not only prevent illness but also address the social drivers that may cause poor health. Our focus this year is to create sustainable, effective strategies that solve food challenges and improve nutrition."

[Read also: Kaiser Permanente Launches Medicaid-Based 'Food as Medicine' Study.]

The effects of food insecurity, which studies have shown affects roughly 13% of U.S. households, go hand-in-hand with clinical outcomes. Chronic diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma, COPD, and cardiac issues are hampered and even worsened by a lack of nutrition. And while the impact is most acutely felt in underserved populations who have problems accessing good food, the concept of eating for good health needs to be taught to everyone regardless of social standing.

Healthcare organizations are embracing food as medicine strategies in an effort to tackle SDOH and bend the curve on skyrocketing costs for chronic care management. Some of the tactics used so far have included programs that deliver healthy foods and prepared meals to patients, partnerships with local food markets, health eating incentive programs, even virtual cooking and nutrition classes.

The participating health centers are Affinia Healthcare in St. Louis; Asian Health Services in Oakland; Cabin Creek Health Systems in Charleston, West Virginia; Delaware Valley Community Health in Philadelphia; White Couse Clinics in Richmond, Kentucky; Mainline Health Systems in Monticello, Arkansas; Tri-Area Community Health in Laurel Fork, Virginia; and Urban Health Plan in New York.

They’ll be launching experimental projects over the next six months, and will be called on to create pitches for one of two additional awards in the fall. The NACHC will share the results of the programs with its network of community health centers, affecting some 31 million people.

"In response to higher rates of both food insecurity and chronic illnesses that can be better managed through healthier diets, Urban Health Plan and many of our community partners in the Bronx have prioritized making healthy food accessible to residents through food pantries, farmers markets, and regular food distribution events," Paloma Izquierdo-Hernandez, the health center’s president and CEO, said in the press release. "We're planning to bring in local chefs to help educate our community on preparing healthier meals with a focus on affordable and culturally relevant foods that can be found locally.

The incubator, in its second year, was launched by the NACHC’s Center for Community Health Innovation, which has been instrumental in getting health centers to tackle the digital divide through telehealth, patient portals and digital and health literacy programs.

Eric Wicklund is the associate content manager and senior editor for Innovation at HealthLeaders.


Food insecurity affects roughly 13% of the nation’s households.

Health systems and hospitals are embracing food as medicine strategies to integrate nutrition into patient care, with the hope of improving health and wellness for those with chronic health concerns.

8 community health centers across the country are taking part in a national effort to introduce new strategies to the food as medicine movement.

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