Tufts University Initiative to Advance ‘Food is Medicine’ Movement

July 7, 2023
Study estimates that a national produce prescription program for 40- to 79-year-olds with diabetes and food insecurity could prevent 296,000 cases of cardiovascular disease

Massachusetts-based Tufts University is launching a new cross-university initiative that it says will be the first of its kind to focus on advancing the “Food is Medicine” movement.

Leading the effort will be Dariush Mozaffarian, M.D., Dr.P.H. After eight years as dean of the Gerald J. and Dorothy R. Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy and one year as special advisor to the Tufts University provost, he is stepping down from these roles to lead the new initiative.

“I’m thrilled to be drawing on Tufts’ national leadership in Food is Medicine to create a new cross-university, cross-national collaborative to transform healthcare—a collaborative founded on the university’s traditions of innovation and commitment to public impact,” said Mozaffarian in an interview with Tufts Now. “Bringing together research, education, patient care, and community engagement, this first-of-its-kind initiative will serve as a catalyst to drive change, improve health, reduce health disparities, and create a more equitable and resilient healthcare system that recognizes the power of nourishing food. This initiative will also build partnerships with stakeholders within and beyond health care to ensure that interventions reach the people who need them most.”

New university resources plus targeted fundraising, combined with existing funds for Food is Medicine research and advocacy will help propel a significant investment in this new initiative, he added. The initiative is expected to launch this fall.

“Of the strategies that can improve American’s nutrition and diet-related health outcomes, evidence continues to build that produce prescriptions are a terrific option,” he said. “These innovative treatments are exciting because they cannot only improve health and reduce healthcare spending, but also reduce disparities by reaching those patients who are most in need.”

In a study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, Mozaffarian and colleagues estimated that a national produce prescription program for 40- to 79-year-olds with diabetes and food insecurity could prevent 296,000 cases of cardiovascular disease (for example, heart attacks and strokes) and gain 260,000 quality-adjusted life years (years lived with good health) over the lifetime of current patients. Through these health gains, these benefits were also estimated to save $39.6 billion in healthcare spending and $4.8 billion in costs of lost productivity. At the same time, implementing the program nationally would cost $44.3 billion, including all expenses for screening patients, providing food and nutrition education, and necessary administration.

Taken into account all costs, a national produce prescription program for patients with diabetes and food security would be highly cost-effective, costing $18,000 per quality-adjusted life year gained, the researchers said. This is on par with other “best buys” in healthcare, like blood pressure screening and control, cholesterols screening and control, and cancer screening. (In comparison, the new GLP-1 weight loss medications cost about $200,000 per quality-adjusted life year gained).  

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