The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Rockefeller Foundation will support two Produce Prescription pilot projects and associated research pilot programs at VA healthcare systems in Salt Lake City and Houston, with the goal of improving the quality of life for veterans living with or at-risk of diet-related health conditions.
The Produce Prescription program pilots will provide eligible veterans the opportunity to enroll in the Fresh Connect program to receive $100 per month for fresh produce and receive nutrition education and ongoing coaching from VA registered dietitian nutritionists.
“We know good food is the foundation of good health, and study after study has found Food is Medicine interventions make people healthier even as they cut health care costs,” said Rajiv J. Shah, M.D., president of The Rockefeller Foundation, in a statement. “I am proud the Foundation will be collaborating with the VA to help make American veterans’ lives healthier and more food-secure. This program will also help to accelerate our understanding and use of these programs as an integral part of health care delivery to the benefit of millions of other Americans.”
VA highlighted the urgency of the situation: About 27 percent of Afghanistan and Iraq war Veterans experience food insecurity — a rate more than double that of the general U.S. population. Studies have found that veterans, particularly those with food insecurity, are also at greater risk for diet-related diseases. One study reported 86 percent were overweight or obese at their first visit to a Veterans Health Administration (VHA) clinician, while another showed the prevalence of diabetes is at least 5 percent higher among U.S. veterans than the general population. Expanding Food is Medicine programs at VA will address the impact of diet-related disease and food insecurity among Veterans, while evaluating their impact for building the case to embed these programs into a fully integrated health care delivery system.
“At VA, we know comprehensive and innovative nutrition programs like Food is Medicine help veterans maintain healthy lives and achieve food security,” said VA Secretary Denis McDonough, in a statement “Food is foundational for a healthy life, and it takes all of us — working together — to improve outcomes and nutrition for veterans. We appreciate The Rockefeller Foundation for partnering with us in making healthy food more accessible to veterans at VA.”
Food is Medicine programs are widely recognized as powerful interventions, but they only reach a fraction of those who could benefit.
The partnership will focus on expanding the implementation and evaluation of Food is Medicine programs throughout VA’s healthcare system, and support from The Rockefeller Foundation will provide grants to organizations such as About Fresh, a Boston-based nonprofit, that will help enroll veterans in produce prescription pilot programs at VHA facilities in Salt Lake City and Houston. Designed in collaboration with VA clinicians, staff and the VA’s Office of Food Security, these projects will build upon work led by Reinvestment Partners to increase veteran enrollment in their EatWell program with the VA facility in Durham, N.C.
Researchers at the University of Utah will evaluate the projects’ impacts on health, healthcare costs and utilization and participant satisfaction. Lessons and data garnered through these pilot projects will help to inform the development of more impactful policies and program design to scale the reach of Food is Medicine as a benefit for veterans across the VA health care system.
Last fall, the Rockefeller Foundation and the American Heart Association, with inaugural partner Kroger, announced a plan to mobilize $250 million to build a national Food is Medicine Research Initiative, and in November 2022, the Foundation committed $4.6 million in grants for equitable and community-directed Food is Medicine approaches to prevent, manage, and treat diet-related illnesses in the nation.