Donna Lawson, a former school principal struggling with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, discovered the transformative power of medically tailored groceries—a cornerstone of the emerging Food is Medicine movement, in working with her health care team.

These specialized food programs aim to treat or prevent diseases through nutrition, providing patients with meals or groceries targeting their specific health needs.

“As a recipient of medically tailored groceries, I can say that Food is Medicine helped bring me joy and nourishment while relieving the symptoms of my disease and the food insecurity my family and I were experiencing, Lawson said.

The U.S. spends around $1.1 trillion per year to treat chronic, diet-related diseases, equal to all the money Americans pay for food and an alarming burden on individuals and the health system. Our food system’s true costs are not included in this hefty price tag, but are found in the impacts on health, the environment, and social and economic inequity.

new report by researchers from the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, supported by The Rockefeller Foundation, examines how scaling Food is Medicine programs nationally can lead to better health and be cost-effective or even cost-saving.

Drawing on our True Cost Accounting methodologies, researchers found promising results from two compelling case studies:

Medically tailored meals and groceries

  • Providing medically tailored meals and groceries to eligible recipients could avert 6 million hospitalizations annually.
  • Even after implementation costs, the policy could lead to a net cost savings of $13.6 billion over one year and $185 billion over a decade.

Produce prescription programs

  • Expanding produce prescriptions for diabetes patients could avert 292,000 cardiovascular events.
  • These programs proved highly cost-effective from a health care perspective compared to alternatives.

To succeed in the long term, we must act now to ensure these programs are built to scale. Here are four questions policymakers, business professionals across the health care system, employers, and community leaders should consider in bringing Food is Medicine programs to life.

Read the full article about how food can improve health outcomes by Devon Klatell and Diana Johnson at The Rockefeller Foundation.