At inaugural food-as-medicine summit, HHS announces partnerships to bolster the movement

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) announced new private-public partnerships to support the food as medicine movement at its first-ever summit on the topic on Wednesday.

HHS will be teaming up with Instacart, a grocery delivery company and two nonprofits, the Rockefeller Foundation and Feeding America. They will exchange research, communication and implementation of programs and policy priorities to advance the collective understanding of food as medicine.

The all-day summit held Wednesday in Washington, D.C., featured panels on the relationship between nutrition and health for hundreds of educators, community engagement managers, scientists and other stakeholders. It was also livestreamed for the public.

The partnerships are the result of a Congress-funded effort in 2023, through which HHS is developing the first federal tool kit as well as implementation guidance for food-as-medicine. The goal is to implement a federal strategy to reduce nutrition-related chronic diseases and food insecurity through diet-related research and programmatic efforts that will increase access to food-is-medicine interventions.

“We seek to help accelerate interventions and build strategies to expand successful programs to more eligible Americans. The Biden-Harris Administration is using every lever available to drive new innovations in policy, and deliver durable solutions that improve our health," HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said in an announcement. 

These efforts are also in line with the White House National Strategy on Hunger, Nutrition and Health, with the goal of ending hunger and increasing healthy eating and physical activity by 2030.

In partnership with HHS, Instacart’s health initiative, launched in 2022, will leverage its tech, partnerships, research and advocacy to expand access to nutritious food and scale food as medicine programs. 

"At Instacart, we believe in the power of food as medicine, which is why we're building new technologies, advancing research and advocating for policies that make it as easy for providers to prescribe food as it is to prescribe medicine," Dani Dudeck, chief corporate affairs officer at Instacart, said in a press release. "Together, we can ensure the food as medicine movement reaches every family and community across the country." 

The Rockefeller Foundation is a New York nonprofit that leads in integrating nutrition into healthcare. It will work with HHS to identify how food-as-medicine programs can lead to better health outcomes, particularly for the underserved, and save millions of dollars in healthcare costs. It will also engage a broader public audience in the movement and identify opportunities and barriers to support greater uptake. 

Also on Wednesday, the Rockefeller Foundation announced it will invest an additional $80 million over the next five years to advance food as medicine programs in the U.S., bringing its total commitment to more than $100 million since 2019. The bulk of the latest funding, $51 million, will go to the American Heart Association (AHA). 

The AHA has a Health Care by Food initiative, a multi-year effort to identify effective food as medicine approaches. The AHA announced the first 19 food-as-medicine research projects last week. 

“The healthcare system needs evidence-informed tools and solutions to address root causes of diet-related disease and ultimately save lives,” Nancy Brown, AHA CEO, said in a press release. “With support from The Rockefeller Foundation, the American Heart Association is proud to work with researchers, practitioners, healthcare providers and patients to build a world-class Food Is Medicine research, advocacy and education initiative.”

Feeding America is part of a nationwide network of food banks, food pantries and community-based organizations that works to address hunger. The HHS partnership will elevate its food as medicine program, which was launched in partnership with Elevance Health Foundation in 2019. 

The program helps healthcare partners screen patients for food insecurity at visits and connects them to food assistance resources. It also assists neighbors who qualify for public benefits programs like SNAP and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for WIC.