A Prescription for Food Security and Diet-Related Conditions
September 28, 2022
Today is the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health. As believers that everyone deserves access to the nourishment the right food provides, it is heartening to see these issues elevated on such a platform.
The only other such conference, in 1969, helped lead to landmark programs such as school lunches, SNAP and WIC, and changes to how food is labeled. And so, there is optimism among many of us who work on issues breaking down barriers to healthy food that equally significant approaches will result this time around, and that these efforts will include a specific focus on overcoming the inequities that persist by race, age, income, and geography.
This hope is buoyed by the pillars on which this gathering is built. One in particular outlines the further integration of nutrition, food security, and health by elevating the role that the nation’s health care system can play in addressing the nutritional needs of all people.
North Carolina is fertile ground for an approach doing just that, bolstering health care’s role in addressing food security and opening doors to healthy food, all while leveraging the expertise and leadership of two of the state’s great resources - its people and the work of our community-based organizations.
This promising approach - Healthy Food Prescription Programs - features partnerships between community-based organizations and the health care sector that leverage the inextricable links between food, nutrition, and health. In these programs, health care providers assess patients for diet-related conditions and/or food insecurity. They then prescribe a food-based intervention, delivered by local organizations with long-standing ties within their community.
Like many medications, Healthy Food Prescriptions are not a cure all. However, they are many great things, including most significantly a pathway to achieving greater equity in food security, nutrition, and health.
Like many medications, Healthy Food Prescriptions are not a cure all. However, they are many great things, including most significantly a pathway to achieving greater equity in food security, nutrition, and health. They are community driven and customized rather than a one size fits all approach. They meet people where they are. And they leverage, and marry, the expertise and trust of health care providers with the capabilities and wrap-around services of community organizations to serve the unique needs of residents.
Understanding the potential that lies within this approach, about a year ago our foundation funded a statewide scan of Healthy Food Prescription interventions to learn more. This opened our eyes even further to what was happening on the ground. We saw solutions for urban and rural communities. We saw an array of food and nutrition interventions from vouchers to medically tailored meals to food boxes from local farms. We saw diverse health care partners, including health plans, health systems, and community health centers – all referring patients. And we saw local, community-based organizations playing an emerging role as essential partners to health care providers in caring for the food and nutrition needs for the patients being sent their way.
We also saw opportunity, the opportunity to strengthen the Food is Medicine work happening in our state. This has resulted in a $3.5 million investment to support, and learn from, 10 Healthy Food Prescription Programs throughout North Carolina that were identified as part of this scan. This is being highlighted as part of the convening today and representatives of three of the grantees have been invited to attend, a fitting acknowledgement of the work they are doing.
We encourage you to learn more about this initiative and each of the 10 organizations we’re supporting. They range from small operations serving historically under-resourced neighborhoods to the largest produce prescription program in the country, whose footprint spans the entire state. Among the goals is to identify factors for success and elevating these programs as models from whom others can learn.
In an era of deepening focus on health equity, shifts to value-based care, and increased attention on non-medical drivers of health, growing Healthy Food Prescription Programs could not be timelier, both in North Carolina and throughout the country. With them, the health care sector and others have an emerging opportunity to meaningfully move the dial on addressing food security and reducing diet-related conditions.
Ensuring that everyone has access to healthy food and increasing food security requires big changes at all levels, new and different partnerships, and – most of all – a variety of approaches. For us, growing the Food is Medicine movement is just one. Our focus also includes strengthening food hubs, food councils, and others working to create a more equitable food system as well as increasing access to no-cost healthy school meals for all, for which we have recently made a $4 million commitment.
Our belief is simple, everyone in North Carolina deserves the opportunity to be as healthy as possible. However, that opportunity cannot be realized without the nourishment that available, accessible, and healthy food provides.
About the Authors
Merry Davis, Director, Healthy Food and Valerie Stewart, Director, Healthy Communities, are partnering together to lead Blue Cross NC Foundation's multi-year effort to strengthen and spread Healthy Food Prescription efforts across North Carolina.
Director, Healthy Food
Learn more about Merry
Director, Healthy Communities
Learn more about Valerie