New Institute Aims to Address Gap in Nation’s Health Care System Through Highly Effective Yet Overlooked Nutrition Interventions

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The Food is Medicine Institute at the Friedman School at Tufts University will bring together researchers, private and public sectors to drive change, integrate food-based solutions in health care

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Credit: Alonso Nichols/Tufts University

A newly launched, first-of-its-kind institute aims to address a glaring gap in the medical system by working to integrate food-based nutrition interventions into health care to treat disease and advance health equity.

The Food is Medicine Institute at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, launched today, establishes a university-wide initiative aimed at transforming health care through scalable food-based interventions such as: medically tailored meals and prescriptions for produce; nutrition education for doctors; and clinical care, electronic health record, and reimbursement pathways for nutrition-based tools to help treat or prevent diet-related illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers and complications during pregnancy. The Institute will advance Food is Medicine research, patient care, and community and policy engagement nationwide and beyond, and be a leader in educating the next generation of professionals in the Food is Medicine space.

“The Institute builds on Tufts’ rich array of schools, our role as a leading research university, and our position as a pioneer in nutrition education and scholarship,” said Tufts University President Sunil Kumar. “It also reflects our university-wide commitment to advancing societal equity while tackling difficult global challenges.”

Inadequate diet is responsible for more deaths worldwide than any other risk factor, including smoking tobacco. In the U.S., it’s the number one driver of poor health, leading to more than half a million deaths a year and costing more than $1.1 trillion in health costs and lost productivity. And poor nutrition disproportionately affects people with lower-incomes, rural communities, and historically marginalized racial and ethnic groups.

Research has shown that food and nutrition interventions incorporated into a patient’s treatment plan could lead to improved health outcomes and lower health care costs.

In addition to bringing together faculty and students from the Friedman School and Tufts University School of Medicine, in collaboration with the Tufts Medicine health system, the Institute will engage with the private and public sectors. “One of the pillars of this cross-school institute is developing synergies with other innovators with national and international reach to broaden its impact,” said Tufts University Provost and Senior Vice President Caroline Genco.  

“The Institute is an important next step in advancing the Friedman School and Tufts’ commitment to research, training, and bringing evidence-based food and nutrition programs to our health care system,” added Christina Economos, dean of the Friedman School.

Among the organizations the Institute has convened are Kaiser Permanente, John Hancock, and Google, each of which is engaged in Food is Medicine efforts to prevent and treat health disorders and reduce health disparities. 

The Institute is collaborating with Kaiser Permanente on the design, implementation, and assessment of three clinical trials: a produce prescription intervention for patients with diabetes in southern California, a research clinical trial of patients with diabetes who are receiving “fresh funds” every month to buy healthy foods online; and a trial to be conducted in Georgia involving high-risk pregnancies.

The Institute will be working with the Google Health AI team to produce a first-in-class AI-based tool to elevate trusted nutrition information and mitigate nutrition misinformation.

“It’s exciting to see that Food is Medicine interventions can have an immediate impact on health and well-being. We don’t have to wait years to see a benefit,” said the Institute’s Director Dariush Mozaffarian, distinguished professor, dean emeritus and Jean Mayer Professor of Nutrition at the Friedman School, which he led for eight years, and professor at the School of Medicine.

Mozaffarian also emphasized that Food is Medicine is one of the rare advances in health care that can also help address health disparities. “As a heart doctor, it’s great to see innovation and equity finally coming together.”

Quotes from collaborators:

“Google recognizes the Food is Medicine movement as critical to public health. We are excited to be collaborating with the Food is Medicine Institute to help provide high quality nutrition information to more people with the goal of improving health outcomes,” said Nira Goren, head of health information quality, Google.

“We’re proud of the long and impactful relationship we have built over the years with Tufts, centered on our shared commitment to help people live longer, healthier, and better lives,” said Brooks Tingle, president and CEO of John Hancock. “We’re excited to extend our commitment by supporting the Food is Medicine Institute and its mission.”

"The problems of hunger, poor nutrition, and diet-related chronic disease are systemically and inequitably at a crisis point in this country. This event is a pivotal opportunity to foster collaboration, partnership and commitment to the Food is Medicine movement as we work to improve health and nutrition across the U.S.,” said Pamela Schwartz, executive director for Community Health at Kaiser Permanente.

“The future of health care includes the embedding of targeted nutritional interventions into our care processes to manage chronic diseases and the health of the diverse populations we serve,” said Michael Dandorph, president and CEO of Tufts Medicine. “We are excited to work closely with Tufts University to advance this important and impactful work as we empower people to live their best lives.”

Disclaimer: AAAS and EurekAlert! are not responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted to EurekAlert! by contributing institutions or for the use of any information through the EurekAlert system.

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