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Food as Medicine

The idea of food as medicine dates back thousands of years, so it makes sense that programs based on the concept already exist. Most fall into two categories: produce prescriptions and medically tailored meals. Both are gaining traction as research emerges to support their effectiveness.


Produce prescriptions are vouchers or cards from a health care provider that can be used to buy fresh produce. They are for people with conditions related to diet, such as diabetes, obesity, and hypertension. Providing better access to produce would likely reduce costly health care treatments. While these programs are becoming more widespread, funding is often limited and short-term.


Thirty-eight states already have some kind of prescription produce program, according to the National Produce Prescription Collaborative, a coalition of practitioners, researchers, and advocates.


Produce prescriptions are becoming common for retailers, so the National Grocers Association has set up a website to help retail stores manage them.


Medically tailored meals are ready-to-eat meals for patients who live at home but are too sick to cook for themselves. The “tailored” part is designed by a registered dietitian nutritionist, who creates a meal plan based on the specific needs of each patient. The plans

are designed to improve health, lower the cost of care, and keep patients feeling good.


Eight states, including New York and California, already cover medically tailored meals for Medicaid patients in some circumstances.


The Food Is Medicine Coalition, a group of nonprofits focused on medical food and nutrition, has two dozen studies underway across the country to look at the effects of medically tailored meals.


Hat tip to WebMD for the update.