Why Cigna is looking to subscription boxes as inspiration for addressing childhood hunger 

Cigna's taking inspiration from an unlikely source for its new initiative aimed at childhood hunger: subscription boxes. (Getty/hanieriani)

Cigna’s new program aimed at addressing childhood hunger may soon look a lot like the popular food subscriptions.

The insurer last week formally launched the Healthier Kids for Our Future initiative, a $25 million, five-year project that aims to improve children’s health globally. The initiative is part of Cigna’s $200 million in community investments that were announced at the close of its $67 billion acquisition of Express Scripts. 

As part of the program, Cigna is exploring a project that resembles popular food delivery services like Hello Fresh or Blue Apron, Susan Stith, vice president for diversity, inclusion and civic affairs, told FierceHealthcare. The goal, she said, would be to arm children with food insecurity not just with food but also with cooking skills and nutritional knowledge. 

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The "boxes," she said, would ideally include cookbooks, cooking tools and other resources to help kids learn to cook healthy meals, in addition to providing much-needed food. 

“We don’t want to just feed kids,” Stith said. “The knowledge to eat well, the nutritional value of food—we want to put those type of things in a kid.” 

RELATED: Intermountain Healthcare to put $12M toward issues like housing, food insecurity

Stith, who also oversees the Cigna Foundation, said Cigna planned to focus on food insecurity and hunger in its first year to align projects to the World Health Organization’s sustainable development goals—including addressing poverty, hunger and overall health and well-being. 

“When we talk about this program, we never make assumptions that everyone’s need is the same,” Stith said. “How do we make sure we’re giving them what they really need, instead of what we think they need?” 

For the initiative’s launch, Cigna partnered with Blessings in a Backpack, a nonprofit that provides packs with food for children who may go hungry over the weekend. Cigna employees at nine sites stateside and two internationally teamed up to fill the backpacks last week. 

Stith said the bag packing was the largest such project for the insurer, and the largest for Blessings in a Backpack, as well. But Cigna is looking to potentially take that concept and run with it, she said, as many children have needs that extend beyond the weekend. 

RELATED: A prescription for healthier meals? Geisinger finds it could help diabetes management 

Though the box piece of the initiative is still in the early stages, Stith said taking the backpack model a step further would do more than simply address hunger but could also reduce childhood obesity and future diabetes risk. Cigna is also planning to expand to more sites in the future, with plans to expand to 14 locations for this work in the U.S. 

But what is the return on investment? In addition to potentially preventing chronic, costly diseases like diabetes, addressing childhood hunger helps to build a stronger workforce of adults. 

“We’re building strong children for the workforce of the future,” Stith said. “In order to really go into the workplace in a few years, we want to make sure we’re giving them the foundation for success.” 

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