Strategic Public-Private Partnership Aims to Expand, Explore Links Between Food Insecurity and Health Outcomes

Feeding America has joined the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in a partnership that will advance Food is Medicine work to ensure everyone has access to the nutritious food and resources needed to improve health.

HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra announced the partnership at the department’s first-ever Food is Medicine Summit, along with similar partnerships with the Rockefeller Foundation and Instacart as part of a federal commitment to advancing unified Food is Medicine policies and to accelerate the collective understanding of Food is Medicine interventions and their impacts.

“With this partnership, HHS is recognizing the work that Feeding America network food banks are doing in communities around the country to help improve health through food and nutrition,” said Vince Hall, Feeding America chief government relations officer. “This agreement will help accelerate Feeding America’s ongoing efforts to evaluate its ‘Food Is Medicine’ programs to reduce hunger while improving nutrition and health outcomes, and builds upon solutions outlined in the Biden Administration’s National Strategy on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health released last year.”

An overwhelming majority of neighbors facing hunger agreed that “food is medicine” in Feeding America’s Elevating Voices Impact Report, acknowledging the movement to end hunger must be rooted in improving access to nutritious food choices that meet dietary needs and help manage diet-related diseases   .

The HHS partnership will elevate Feeding America’s “Food Is Medicine” program, which was launched in partnership with Elevance Health Foundation in 2019. The program helps health care partners screen patients for food insecurity during health care visits and connects them to food assistance resources at health care facilities. Notable outcomes of the program have included the creation of food pantries and prepackaged food pickup boxes at hospitals and clinics, new produce prescription programs, nutrition courses and home delivery services.

In addition to food distribution, the “Food Is Medicine” program assists neighbors who qualify to enroll in public benefits programs including Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).

“When we can eat well, we can be well – and we can thrive,” said Radha Muthiah, president and CEO of the Capital Area Food Bank, a current ‘Food Is Medicine’ grant recipient. “But far too many of our neighbors struggle with health issues caused by a lack of access to nutritious food – illnesses that prevent them from fulfilling their potential. It will take the collaboration of people and institutions from across every sector to address this challenge through innovation and research. The partnership between Feeding America and HHS is a remarkable step in that direction, and will enable the ‘Food Is Medicine’ movement to have an even greater impact on at both the national and local levels.”

In 2022, Elevance Health Foundation made a $14.1 million investment, the largest grant in the Foundation’s history, to fund a new phase of Feeding America’s Food Is Medicine program. More than 20 Feeding America partner food banks and health care partners are now able to implement data collection and analysis in order to better understand the needs of people facing hunger and to deliver effective solutions.

“We are encouraged by the momentum that collaborations like this create to help strengthen our communities,” said Shantanu Agrawal, M.D., Chief Health Officer of Elevance Health. “This partnership underscores the importance of all stakeholders in the healthcare system working together to support whole health. The Elevance Health Foundation is proud to work with Feeding America to advance food as medicine. Through these efforts we will work to reduce health-related social needs, reduce the number of individuals experiencing food insecurity, and create access to nutritious foods that help manage chronic conditions.”

Feeding America is partnering with the Gretchen Swanson Center for Nutrition to lead the evaluation for this new round of Food Is Medicine programming, which has so far screened more than 153,000 people for food insecurity, referred nearly 30,000 people to Food Is Medicine programs and provided food to more than 25,000 people.