White House reveals $8B in private sector spending to fight hunger with focus on nutrition and chronic illness

The White House announced today more than $8 billion in commitments to the "food is medicine" movement linking nutrition and chronic illness.

The announcement coincided with the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health, held for the first time in more than 50 years. After a call to action this summer, over 100 private and public sector contributors offered funds and services to catalyze healthcare delivery in addressing health equity.

Of the committed funds, $2.5 billion will be invested in startup companies addressing food and nutrition insecurity, and $4 billion will be directed toward initiatives improving access to nutritious food and philanthropy promoting healthy choices and increasing physical activity.

“In almost every single discipline from cancer to heart disease on down the line, we are finding out it's affected by diet and exercise,” said President Joe Biden at the opening of the conference. The White House released a strategy (PDF) to end hunger by 2030 while also reducing diet-related disease and health inequity.

Kaiser Permanente joined the movement by pledging $50 million. The funds donated by the nation’s largest nonprofit will address key areas including coordinating with publicly funded programs to support Kaiser Permanente members experiencing food and nutrition insecurity or diet-related diseases.

Specific Kaiser initiatives will screen more than 9 million members for social health needs, develop e-commerce solutions, expand food is medicine programs including prescriptions for produce and provide medically tailored meals for recently hospitalized patients.

"When people are hungry or lack proper nutrition or equitable access to the food they require to address their most pressing medical needs, they are less likely to get or stay healthy," said Bechara Choucair, M.D., senior vice president and chief health officer at Kaiser Permanente, in a press release. "This is a landmark opportunity to reimagine what the food and nutrition landscape can and should look like as part of a healthier, more equitable society."

In addition to financial commitments, various organizations announced related initiatives. The Association of American Medical Colleges committed to organizing the inaugural Medical Education Summit on Nutrition in Practice in March 2023. The summit will explore ways to integrate nutrition and food insecurity into medical education curricula.

By 2030, the American Academy of Pediatrics committed to training all of its 67,000 member pediatricians on screening and addressing nutrition insecurity.

Commitments and conference events were broken into five pillars: improve food access and affordability, integrate nutrition and health, empower consumers to make and have access to healthy choices, support physical activity for all and enhance nutrition and food security research.

Leaders from the Rockefeller Foundation, the American Heart Association (AHA), the Children’s National Health System and the SCAN Group and Health Plan spoke during the conference on the importance of integrating nutrition and health.

The Rockefeller Foundation announced a $250 million effort, joined by the AHA and Kroger, to build a food is medicine research initiative. The initiative is in discussions with payers and delivery systems including Kaiser Permanente’s integrated system, Apple and the Veterans Health Administration, according to Rajiv Shah, M.D., president of the Rockefeller Foundation.

Tools designed by the initiative will shape and scale food is medicine programs to reach health equity and reduce healthcare costs, according to a White House press release.

“We need to think beyond just medical care to keep people healthy and independent,” said Sachin Jain, M.D., president and CEO of SCAN, during a panel discussion at the conference. “You can’t address someone’s chronic diseases if they’re hungry. You can give patients insulin or metformin, but if they’re eating the wrong things or don’t have access to meals, they’re going to end up in the hospital. We need to rethink how we think about our healthcare spending in this country and stop just paying for visits and paying for hospitalizations but start paying for the things that actually keep people healthy.”

SCAN is one of many organizations joining the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the largest provider of healthcare in the U.S., to form the Sync for Social Needs coalition. The coalition will unite leading health technology companies and health systems to standardize the sharing of patient data on social determinants of health such as food insecurity.

Participating coalition members commit to assessing and piloting the incorporation of designated social screening tools in electronic medical record systems. Healthcare standards-setting bodies also agreed to aid participants in scaling these approaches to make it easier for doctors to screen for social needs.

Other coalition members include the National Quality Forum, the National Committee for Quality Assurance, the Joint Commission, Epic, Oracle-Cerner, Rush University System for Health, Tufts Medicine, Riverside Health System, Sanford Health, SSM Health, Higi, BayCare, Geisinger, Meditech, WellSky, Findhelp and Graphite Health, amongst others. 

“What that partnership will do, from my vantage point: A veteran makes their needs known to a community provider and we get that feedback information into our healthcare system so that if we haven’t taken notice of an important social need, we will be enabled to do so,” said Shereef Elnahal, M.D., undersecretary for health at the VA.

Several other healthcare providers and startups pledged their support to help address hunger and food insecurity.

The Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation plans to launch a two-year, $3.5 million effort to increase access to healthy food. Boston Medical Center promised to expand screening for food insecurity and facilitate Medicaid and SNAP enrollment.

Wellory, a startup connecting patients with payers covering nutrition care, pledged to provide individual nutrition telehealth counseling for up to 10 million uninsured Americans by 2030 free of cost, a commitment estimated to total $300 million.

Nonprofit integrated healthcare system Mass General Brigham will invest $6.35 million to expand the capacity of community-based organizations working to reduce food insecurity, promote nutrition equity and provide food is medicine programs including medically tailored meals.