by Jason Langheier, M.D., MPH

In 400 BC, Hippocrates said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”. History is often forgotten, but now there is a movement back to that mindset.

In 2022, what if you walked into a doctor’s office for your routine visit and walked out with a foodscript? What if Medicare and Medicaid paid for healthy food and not just medication?

As a doctor, I believe that your health assessment should include a prescription for a customized food plan. And as a working parent, I know how helpful personalized coaching to access and use that food can be in between doctor visits.

Because our current system doesn’t support this approach, I created Foodsmart. Let food be thy medicine.

Now more than ever, getting quality, nutritious food on the table can truly change lives. The COVID-19 pandemic, and now inflation, has exacerbated food and nutrition insecurity, which in turn are plaguing us, our health system and the financial stability of the country. Over 50% of Americans are suffering from at least one chronic disease–like diabetes or cardiovascular disease–that can be directly linked to poor nutrition, while people with obesity are up to 92% more likely to die from COVID – demonstrating how vulnerable we’ve become due to poor nutrition. More than 40% of adults gained over 30 pounds during the pandemic; now 80% are overweight or obese. In spite of increased calls for health equity, food insufficiency is three times greater among diverse populations-the highest level in seven years.

At the same time, historic SNAP increases, Medicaid 1115 waivers or “community supports” related to medically supportive foods, emergency relief funding, and guidance on savings make it theoretically possible for any American to overcome food and nutrition security. I’d argue that the missing link to translate these essential resources to sustainable health equity is a fully integrated approach to food is medicine–or ‘foodcare’.

For over a decade, we’ve built a telenutrition experience that combines registered dietitian services, personalized meal planning tools, and a broadly integrated food delivery marketplace in one location – to make eating healthy easy on your mind and wallet. This is the way I could help write a personalized foodscript for every American that is specific to individual health needs in an accessible, dignified and culturally relevant manner.

And it’s working. One-third (33%) of Foodsmart members with hypertension achieved controlled blood pressure levels within nine months; 39% of diabetics brought Hb1c under control; 36% of individuals with high/bad cholesterol returned to normal lipid levels over eighteen months and 33% of our members with obesity lost over five-percent of their weight over two-years. More importantly, after 3 years, people continued to lose weight–a more sustained result than traditional interventions driven by the long-term change in a family’s food buying environment via integrated foodcare.

What is driving me to make foodscripts a household reality is the profound impact for those most in need. Our newest study shows that 42% of Foodsmart members who identified as food insecure at baseline were lifted out of food insecurity. A trusted dietitian and support team that first focuses on the economic and physical barriers to consistently getting quality food on the table make a huge difference– especially since we see more than half of our members who qualify for SNAP not having an EBT card, or even realizing they can use it online in combination with price comparison support on healthy food.

Nutrition security is deeply personal to me. Growing up in Buffalo, I relied on food stamps when my parents dealt with layoffs, as my family has grappled with obesity, strokes, heart attacks, cancers and early death from diabetes. The horrific shooting at the Tops Market in Buffalo earlier this year struck me not just for my hometown connection, but for the stark reminder of the connection to food for all us – to nourish us, to bring us together, for our individual and community health.

Food is medicine and critical to our lives, yet the act of feeding ourselves and our families can be stressful, complicated and expensive, but it shouldn’t be. Let’s make eating well simple. We’re off to a good start, but I won’t rest until all Americans have the Foodscripts they deserve. Working together, we can help every American become nutrition secure and Foodsmart.

Independent Health has partnered with Foodsmart, a free nutritional resource that helps individuals incorporate health food choices into their lives.

About Dr. Langheier

Dr. Jason Langheier co-founded Foodsmart to make eating well simple and easy for individuals and families, with a focus on helping those who face nutrition insecurity and chronic conditions. Trained at Duke Medicine and Harvard School of Public Health, Dr. Langheier has blended a career in clinical research and technology development with serving as a leading advocate and coalition builder to generate impact. Dr. Langheier was an advisor to the Obama White House for the Let’s Move Initiative and remains on the board of the Partnership for Healthier America. While at Harvard School of Public Health, Dr. Langheier helped to launch the pediatric obesity clinic at Boston Medical Center and pioneered the concept of a ‘foodscript’ – namely, prescribing meal plans to patients and then providing them with the means to overcome social determinants of health. Raised on food stamps in Buffalo, NY, Dr. Langheier leads a platform that supports over 700 health plans, employers and other organizations to address food and nutrition security and the connection to chronic disease, made worse by, and increasing individual susceptibility to, COVID-19.

Photo credit: George Pagan III on Unsplash