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Does enabling access to nutritious food improve health outcomes?

Article-Does enabling access to nutritious food improve health outcomes?

© AdobeStock/Kawee Does enabling access to nutritious food improve health outcomes?
A collaboration between a US-based healthcare provider and a grocery tech company is set to explore how convenient access to nutritious food affects health outcomes.

Kaiser Permanente, the largest non-profit integrated healthcare provider in the US, will provide participants with Instacart Health Fresh Funds – grocery stipends that can be used to purchase nutritious foods and pantry staples like fresh and frozen produce, legumes, plant-based oils, and spices from a curated virtual storefront. Items will then be delivered to participants’ homes via the online marketplace Instacart.

It is the organisation’s latest addition to its Food Is Medicine portfolio, through which it hopes to build an evidence base for food-based interventions to treat and prevent diet-related disease. These efforts include support for medically tailored meals and produce prescriptions designed to meet specific nutrition needs.

“We know that without access to nutritious food, individuals are less likely to stay healthy, increasing the likelihood of new and widening health disparities and healthcare costs,said Anand Shah, vice-president of social health at Kaiser Permanente.

“This innovative study is one of the many avenues that we're pursuing to improve the health of our members and communities with diet-related diseases.

Lack of nutritious food contributes to poor health outcomes

Lack of proper nutrition is a leading driver of poor health outcomes in the US, contributing to higher rates of diet-related diseases. However, barriers to food and nutrition access are not experienced equally, with the worst effects experienced by low-income and rural communities, and historically marginalised racial and ethnic groups.

The study will target Kaiser Permanente Northern California and Southern California Medi-Cal members who have diet-related diseases such as diabetes and chronic heart failure. It will measure the effects of the intervention by looking at blood sugar levels; reported food and nutrition security; diet-related disease quality of life; patient readiness to change; and hospitalisation or emergency department visits.

The move is part of the organisation’s approach to improving the health of its members by addressing social health needs – such as secure housing, reliable transportation, and access to nutritious food – that contribute to overall wellbeing.

Last year, it connected more than 170,000 of its members with community-based resources to meet their social needs, and it is on track to serve 400,000 members in 2023.

Addressing nutrition insecurity to build healthier communities

Kaiser Permanente hopes the research will enhance its understanding of innovative, scalable ways to improve diet-related health for the most vulnerable populations.

In 2022, the organisation announced a $50 million Food Is Medicine commitment to strengthen food and nutrition security programmes, while building evidence for the ways food can be used to treat and prevent certain health conditions.

Instacart launched its Health initiative in the same year, the aim of which is to leverage its platform to enable nutritious choices and scale food as medicine programmes across the nation.

© AdobeStock/rh2010Does enabling access to nutritious food improve health outcomes?

“We're dedicated to addressing nutrition insecurity and, by leveraging our technology, significant reach, and retail partnerships, we can help families across the country get nutritious foods delivered through Instacart,said Sarah Mastrorocco, vice-president and general manager of Instacart Health.

“We know access can lead to better health outcomes, and we're proud to partner with Kaiser Permanente to demonstrate the positive impact that nutrition security and food as medicine can have on a patient's overall health and wellbeing.

Pamela Schwartz, executive director of food security at Kaiser Permanente, added:We know food and nutrition insecurity is felt by people in the communities we serve, as well as for by millions of Americans nationwide. Identifying best practices to address these inequities is essential to building healthier communities.

Instacart partners with more than 1,400 national, regional, and local retail banners to facilitate online shopping, delivery, and pickup services from more than 80,000 stores across North America on its Instacart Marketplace.