Social Determinants

Kaiser Permanente Unveils Food is Medicine Center of Excellence

Kaiser Permanente’s new Food is Medicine Center of Excellence will “combine clinical services, research, education and community engagement,” according to the organization.

Kaiser Permanente, an integrated healthcare provider, unveiled its Food is Medicine Center of Excellence on Thursday. The center will help Kaiser Permanente members access nutrition interventions and programs.

The food as medicine movement has been steadily growing over recent years and taps into the idea that food can be used to prevent, manage and treat health conditions. This includes interventions like medically-tailored meals, produce prescriptions and nutrition counseling. Kaiser Permanente’s new center of excellence will “combine clinical services, research, education and community engagement,” according to a news release. The organization serves 12.5 million members in 8 states and the District of Columbia.

Specifically, the center will help Kaiser Permanente expand nutrition and food insecurity screening of its members and connect them with resources like federal programs and food banks. It will also improve clinical nutrition training through medical curricula and supporting nutrition fellowships. In addition, it will develop new ways to offer food programs to members and provide research. Kaiser Permanente will also partner with local nonprofits, government agencies and businesses to help improve nutrition for members and communities.

“We’re really excited about the focus on our own members, but also excited about how we’re thinking about building the evidence, the research component,” said Dr. Bechara Choucair, senior vice president and chief health officer at Kaiser Permanente, during the organization’s Health Action Summit on Thursday. “We’re excited about how we’re engaging with our medical schools and our [graduate medical education] efforts to incorporate education for our workforce when it comes to food and nutrition. And we’re also excited about how we’re engaging in our communities to improve access to healthy and affordable food.”

Xavier Becerra, secretary of U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, applauded the creation of the Food is Medicine Center of Excellence.

“I am thrilled that today you’re announcing your center of excellence when it comes to food is medicine,” he said at the summit. “That’s a big one for us at HHS because we’re about changing the paradigm. I tell my team, it is time we move away from a system of care that treats illness to one that sustains wellness. And the sooner we get there, the better.”

Kaiser Permanente also announced Thursday that it is committing $2 million to the Share Our Strength organization. The funding will support the Summer Electronic Benefit Transfer (Summer EBT) program, which is the first new permanent federal food assistance program in about 50 years, according to the news release. Summer EBT gives eligible families grocery benefits over the summer when kids are out of school and have less access to school meals.

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A Deep-dive Into Specialty Pharma

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Kaiser Permanente has ramped up its food and nutrition efforts in recent years, helping 125,000 members apply for federal grocery benefits, enrolling 2,100 members and providing more than 116,000 medically-tailored meals through clinical research studies. In 2022, it also committed $50 million through 2030 in alignment with the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health.

Several other healthcare organizations are also taking steps in the food as medicine movement. Highmark Health and Allegheny Health Network have committed $30 million through 2030 to address food insecurity. In June, Elevance Health hired Dr. Kofi Essel as its inaugural food as medicine director.

Photo: fcafotodigital, Getty Images