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University at Buffalo receives scientific research grant to demonstrate effectiveness of 'food is medicine' in health care


Mon, Mar 18th 2024 10:15 am

American Heart Association awards research grant as part of nationwide Health Care by Food initiative

Submitted by the American Heart Association

In an effort to identify effective food is medicine approaches for incorporating healthy food into health care delivery, the American Heart Association – the world’s leading voluntary organization focused on heart and brain health research, now celebrating 100 years of lifesaving work – announced a grant to fund research at the University at Buffalo for its Health Care by Food initiative.

The University at Buffalo’s research will focus on the implementation of innovating food prescription programs in older adults.

Findings from this research will contribute to the goal of the American Heart Association’s Health Care by Food initiative to examine the efficacy of strategic approaches for providing healthy food as part of patient care to help treat, manage and prevent chronic health conditions in ways that alleviate health inequities.

“The field of Food is Medicine is developing rapidly with many new Medicaid 1115 waivers being approved across the country, including one in New York just last month,” said Lucia Leona, Ph.D., associate professor of community health and health behavior at the University at Buffalo and one of the researchers receiving funding through this grant. “It is essential that we are able to quickly develop best practices for ensuring food prescription programs are successful at reaching the people who need them. … This research will help practitioners who are looking to design food prescription programs for their communities understand what works and what doesn’t.”

An estimated 90% of the $4.3 trillion annual cost of health care in the U.S. is spent on medical care for chronic health conditions, many of them diet-related, including cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes and obesity. The Health Care by Food initiative will address barriers to the widespread adoption of healthy food as a treatment for chronic disease and the health inequities that result.

With anchor support from The Rockefeller Foundation and contributions from inaugural collaborator Kroger, and with additional support from Instacart, Kaiser Permanente and Walmart Foundation, the AHA’s Health Care by Food initiative is engaging in scientific research and public policy advocacy to promote the adoption of interventions that reduce chronic health conditions and curb health care costs. The initiative was first announced at the September 2022 White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health by the AHA and The Rockefeller Foundation.

“With the involvement of stakeholders across the public health ecosystem, we aim to mobilize $250 million toward building a future in which people and communities nationwide have equitable access to healthy food to treat and prevent chronic health conditions,” said Nancy Brown, CEO of the AHA. “Our coordinated research strategy will identify the most effective ways for food to address diet-related conditions, with the goal of making food is medicine interventions a regular and reimbursable component of health care.”

Dr. Rajiv J. Shah, president of The Rockefeller Foundation, said, “When people cannot afford or access nutritious foods, they are at greater risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and other chronic diseases that contribute to higher health care costs. These research trials are an essential step in our efforts to ensure everyone’s health insurance covers effective food is medicine approaches – and can help them have the opportunity to live healthier, better lives.”

Food is medicine may be defined as providing healthy food resources to treat, manage and prevent specific chronic conditions in coordination with the health care sector. Common food is medicine programs include medically tailored meals, which are often delivered to patients with diet-related health conditions or among those at high risk; produce prescription programs that integrate healthy food into a patient’s health care plan, enabling patients to better follow their health care team’s dietary advice; and medically tailored groceries, which may include a selection of grocery items prescribed by a registered dietitian or nutritionist for patients with diet-related acute and chronic health conditions who can pick up and prepare food at home.

The initiative’s research roadmap is outlined in the 2023 American Heart Association Presidential Advisory on Food Is Medicine, which calls for addressing gaps in the study of current food is medicine interventions resulting from factors including small sample sizes, non-randomized comparisons and broad differences in data collection and measurement. The advisory writing group was chaired by Kevin Volpp, M.D., Ph.D., the research lead for the Health Care by Food initiative, the Mark V Pauly Professor at the Perelman School of Medicine and the Wharton School and director of the Penn Center for Health Incentives and Behavioral Economics. The advisory proposes a coordinated research approach to examine the cost effectiveness of nutrition-based interventions in treating and preventing disease.

The nationwide research efforts announced recently are the first to be funded under the Health Care by Food initiative. They are led by experts in the food and nutrition, behavioral science, epidemiology and cardiovascular research fields. The projects focus on rigorous pilot testing of ways to equitably increase enrollment and engagement in food is medicine interventions. The projects will test ways to accomplish significant short-term changes in healthy eating behavior to strengthen the foundation for subsequent studies that will assess longer-term behavior change.

The AHA receives funding primarily from individuals; foundations and corporations (including pharmaceutical, device manufacturers and other companies) also make donations and fund specific programs and events. The AHA has strict policies to prevent these relationships from influencing the science content. Revenues from pharmaceutical and biotech companies, device manufacturers and health insurance providers and the AHA’s overall financial information are available here.

Additional Resources

√ Addendum to Research Awards

√ American Heart Association Health Care by Food initiative website

√ American Heart Association Statements and Presidential Advisory:

American Heart Association Presidential Advisory on Food Is Medicine (September 2023)

American Heart Association’s 2024 Impact Goal: Every Person Deserves the Opportunity for a Full, Healthy Life (November 2021)

√ American Heart Association Scientific Statement: Dietary Guidance to Improve Cardiovascular Health (November 2021)

√ Follow AHA news on X (formerly known as Twitter) @HeartNews

More About the American Heart Association

The American Heart Association is a relentless force for a world of longer, healthier lives. We are dedicated to ensuring equitable health in all communities. Through collaboration with numerous organizations, and powered by millions of volunteers, we fund innovative research, advocate for the public’s health and share lifesaving resources. The Dallas-based organization has been a leading source of health information for a century. During 2024 – our centennial year – we celebrate our rich, 100-year history and accomplishments. As we forge ahead into our second century of bold discovery and impact, our vision is to advance health and hope for everyone, everywhere. Connect with us on heart.org, Facebook, X or by calling 1-800-AHA-USA1.   

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