The future of medicine is becoming more and more about food and nutrition.
Today, your healthcare provider will ask you what medications you take, whether you smoke or drink alcohol and how much you exercise. Tomorrow, the first questions your doctor will likely ask are what you eat and whether you have easy daily access to fresh fruits and vegetables.
The American Conference on Food Equality has identified programs that will help alleviate the food insecurity afflicting some low-income areas of Buffalo. But they need money to succeed.
That’s because healthy eating is increasingly seen as a way to prevent and treat conditions such as diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease that are directly linked to poor nutrition.
“There are a lot of conversations that will help make change happen,” said Broderick Cason, director of community engagement at Univera Healthcare. “We all do the same kind of work for the same reason, but we work collectively, not in isolation, and that’s a good thing.”
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That was the message delivered and explored at the 2nd Annual Food As Medicine Symposium at Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus held Thursday at the University at the Buffalo Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences.
“I am designing this effort to go beyond words and create a platform for long-term investment in East Buffalo projects that will improve access to food, and we stand ready to achieve that goal,” said organizer Kevin Gauguin.
The day-long symposium brought nutritionists, nutritionists, health service providers and food access advocates together on the growing movement to prescribe nutritious foods as medicine to fight disease, reverse poor health outcomes and save lives—particularly in food-challenged areas like Buffalo’s East Side.
Food insecurity and East Buffalo have been a growing topic of concern, discussion and action since the May 14 racist mass shooting that killed 10 black people at Tops Market on Jefferson Avenue, which the accused shooter is said to have targeted because it is the main source of health. Food for the predominantly black neighborhood.
Institutions at the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, including the Jacobs College of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at the University of Buffalo, are already working to implement food as medical interventions to treat patients, said Beth Machenica, director of health and wellbeing at the Medical Campus.
Along with projects like health schools, workplaces, corner stores, and farm-to-hospital programs, the campus has just received a grant from Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield to provide medically tailored meals to patients of Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center and Cleida Health in neighborhoods hit by diet segregation, Machnica said. .
“A lot of a person’s health is determined by the neighborhood they live in, so we need to build a bridge to those neighborhoods” to bring nutritious food to where it’s needed most, Machenica said.
Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, Dean of Politics at Gerald J. College. And Dorothy R. Friedman of Tufts University Nutrition Science and Policy, the White House Summit “puts us at a tipping point” in solving the problem of hunger and malnutrition.
He said that two previous White House conferences on nutrition, in 1941 and 1969, had resulted in massive changes. The first focused on vitamin deficiencies, which were rampant at the time and led to vitamin-enriched flours, recommended daily allowances and nutrition information on food packaging. The second focused on hunger and malnutrition and led to reforms that provided food stamps for millions of other families and school lunches for millions of other children.
This year’s summit tackled today’s biggest problem, Mozaffarian said, which is “food insecurity, racial disparities and the epidemic of diet-related diseases that did not exist 100 years ago.”
He said, “We are in a historical moment, an event that only repeats once in a lifetime.” “Food is the number one cause of poor health. In the United States there are 500,000 deaths a year from malnutrition, which is more than 1,000 deaths a day. This is a farce we can handle. Our health care system must start thinking about food.”
Mozaffarian said health providers will need to start prescribing “protective foods,” including fresh produce, nuts, fish, vegetable oils, whole grains, beans and yogurt, and discourage harmful foods, especially starch, sugar and salt, as well as highly processed foods. .
Residents of Pediatrics at the University of Buffalo School of Medicine have canceled Timbit Tuesdays in favor of Fresh Fruit Fridays. Evergreen Health opened a more nutrition market in its employee lounge two years ago, began a “walk the stairs” effort last month, and in April will launch a health passport that will give workers a $20 gift card to reach health standards.
Among the recommendations that Tufts made in her report to the White House after the summit were to train more registered dietitians, and to call on health providers to cover medically designed meals and groceries and “produce prescriptions” to improve patient outcomes. Tufts also called for the establishment of universal food security screening in hospitals and health care settings, called for states to be encouraged to test nutritional intervention programs, and called on medical schools to incorporate food as medicine into their health care training.
He said implementing such programs would save $13 billion in the first year, more than $10 billion of it for diabetes treatment alone.
He said food security is just as important as food security — meaning that the benefits of SNAP and other programs should provide incentives to buy healthy foods and disincentives for harmful foods like sugary soft drinks and processed frozen meals.
He predicted that the future holds new National Institutes of Nutrition to accompany the National Institutes of Health, establishing nutritional guidelines for people with food-related illnesses and increasing investment in business and entrepreneurs producing innovations and solutions to food insecurity and public health.
In recent years, and especially since May 14, Buffalo has been home to many of these efforts, including some of those highlighted at Wednesday’s US Food Stock Conference. Like Cason, Alison Dehoney of Urban Fruits and Veggies has found herself at back-to-back food conferences this week. Initially, it introduced the urban farming process to potential investors. In the second, she moderated a panel discussion on “Food as Medicine and the Social Determinants of Health”.
The American Conference on Food Equity, organized in response to the May 14 racial massacre, will bring national experts and local project leaders together to address the “grocery gap” in Buffalo.
Experts believe the food-as-medicine movement is here to stay. Doctors will soon prescribe nutritional solutions, housing modifications like mildew relief and even stress-reducing therapies like massage and meditation that will be covered by insurance once providers like Highmark and Univera — who were also in the room — obtained evidence-based data to justify their payment.
Hundreds of people who attended, including DeHonney, are working on just that.