Consumer / Employer, Social Determinants

New Partnership Brings ‘Food Is Medicine’ Programs to Veterans

The Rockefeller Foundation is funding two produce prescription pilot programs at VA healthcare systems in Salt Lake City, Utah, and Houston, Texas. Eligible veterans will be able to enroll in About Fresh’s Fresh Connect program, which provides $100 per month through a debit card, allowing the veterans to buy healthy foods at the grocery store.

About 27% of Afghanistan and Iraq war veterans are food insecure, according to research from Cambridge University Press. The prevalence of diabetes is about 5% higher among U.S. veterans compared to the general population, another study from the National Library of Medicine shows.

A new partnership between the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the Rockefeller Foundation and food and nutrition company About Fresh aims to change that. Through the partnership, the Rockefeller Foundation is funding two produce prescription pilot programs with VA healthcare systems in Salt Lake City, Utah, and Houston, Texas. Produce prescriptions are when patients are given an allotted amount of money to purchase healthy produce.

In addition, the Foundation is also funding research on the programs. In total, the philanthropic organization is contributing nearly $1.4 million for the efforts.

“The Rockefeller Foundation is working to unlock the potential of Food is Medicine to increase access to nutritious food for those who need it most, improve both health and health equity, and reduce health care costs. Expanding Food is Medicine programs through the VA, the nation’s largest integrated health care system, will help to address the impact of diet-related disease and food insecurity among veterans,” said Diana Johnson, program officer of food initiative at the Rockefeller Foundation, in an email. 

Eligible veterans will be able to enroll in About Fresh’s Fresh Connect program, which provides $100 per month through a Fresh Connect debit card, allowing the veterans to buy healthy foods at the grocery store. They’ll also gain nutrition education and coaching from registered dietitian nutritionists at the VA. About 500 veterans will benefit from the pilots, said Josh Trautwein, co-founder and CEO of About Fresh.

University of Utah researchers will evaluate the effectiveness of the pilot programs, particularly on how they impact health, costs, utilization and participant satisfaction. This research will help determine future Food is Medicine programs for veterans in the VA health system.

Through the collaboration, Trautwein said he hopes About Fresh can have a meaningful impact on veterans’ nutrition and health.

“What we hope to observe over time is first … a shift towards more food security and a reduction in the stress associated with food insecurity,” he said in an interview. “Those are the immediate impacts that we want to see. Then more longitudinally, we are hoping to be able to measure positive gains in biomedical outcomes and [reductions in] healthcare utilization.”

Johnson of the Rockefeller Foundation added that the organization aims to expand its Food is Medicine programs to more people in the future.

“The VA and The Rockefeller Foundation share a common goal to improve the lives of veterans and their families who are at-risk for poor health outcomes by increasing access to healthy foods through veteran health facilities,” Johnson said. “Through these pilot projects and their evaluation, we will generate additional evidence of their effectiveness, accelerating our understanding and use of these programs, so we can scale Food is Medicine as a benefit for all veterans, and eventually all Americans.”

The Biden-Harris administration spotlighted the Food is Medicine movement in September after holding the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health and announcing more than $8 billion in commitments to fight food insecurity. The Rockefeller Foundation and the American Heart Association committed $250 million of this money for a research initiative. Then in September, the Foundation announced another $4.6 million in grants for food and nutrition. 

Photo: vgajic, Getty Images