Foodsmart Wants ‘Food As Medicine’ Prescriptions To Be Ubiquitous By 2030 – Forbes

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Currently, around 1,475 Medicare Advantage plans provide financial assistance to purchase healthy food mainly in the form of fruits and vegetables. The motivation underlying this couldn’t be clearer. According to a report co-authored by researchers from the Aspen Institute and the Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation at Harvard Law School, poor diet is now the leading risk factor for death in the U.S. and may account for some half a million deaths annually according to the Rockefeller Foundation.

Nonetheless, a significant chasm exists in ensuring dietary modification for those living with chronic health issues is more than just a New Year’s fad and that healthy food routinely finds its way into kitchen cupboards and ultimately onto plates. Layered onto this is the added complexity that, though a generic healthy balanced diet is always a great starting point, there exists more than enough research to demonstrate how optimized diets are usually highly condition-specific – often requiring professional medical oversight to establish and sustain.

Attempting to fill this void and join the dots with an end-to-end solution that can make individually tailored “food as medicine” a day-to-day reality is San Francisco-based Foodsmart. With expertise in telenutrition, the company has been successful in aligning several critical components for making dietary modification sustainable and effective for patients and health plan providers alike.

The first of these can be seen in the company’s latest Foodscripts program which enables primary care providers to refer Medicaid patients living with chronic health conditions such as hypertension and diabetes to Foodsmart’s platform and services. Once there, they are linked through telehealth consultations with the largest network of virtual dieticians in the country who can provide personalized, condition-specific nutritional guidance that takes into account the patient’s cultural and lifestyle needs.

However, far from being the end of the story, receiving the right advice is just the start as those dieticians then accompany patients on virtual grocery shopping tours leveraging Foodsmart’s food marketplace which has integrations with the likes of Instacart, Grubhub and Walmart. The company additionally provides dedicated advice on SNAP benefits (formerly known as food stamps) for those facing food insecurity.

Significant backing

As the service involves zero out-of-pocket costs for patients, revenue comes from tie-ins with health plans. Additionally, last month saw the announcement of partnerships with major healthcare providers Advocate Health, Memorial Hermann Health System and Intermountain Health. Foodsmart has additional backing from the American College of Cardiology and e-prescribing pioneer Glen Tullman bringing the telenutrition enterprise’s total Series C funding to $40 million.

The company has been operating in a variety of guises within the digital health and nutrition space since 2010 but, in recent years, has found itself in a position to benefit from a number of rule changes and socio-political trends. The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services recently updated its rules on reimbursement for telenutrition platforms. This can also be viewed in the context of the Affordable Care Act championing greater engagement with preventative services and the post-pandemic zeitgeist involving the mainstreaming of telehealth and a renewed focus on food insecurity.

Feeling differently about food

Foodsmart’s CEO is Jason Langheier, whose medical training at Duke University and the Harvard School of Public Health led him to found Boston Medical Center’s Paediatric Obesity Clinic two decades ago before going on to become a digital health entrepreneur. Growing up in rural Buffalo on food stamps, Langheier possesses a keen and authentic appreciation of food insecurity.

He says that, for the company, which is onboarded with all but one of America’s health insurers and added 10 million patients to its eligibility pool last year, it’s the dedicated patient-centric approach that represents the secret sauce that can make healthy eating a sustainable lifestyle choice rather than an inconsistently adhered to aspiration.

As well as ongoing dietician support, there is also a very clear educational dimension to Foodsmart’s model according to Langheier, “We do the work for you to get everything set up like with the virtual shopping tours and placing the orders but then we hand the reins over to the patient once they’ve been taught. It’s like teaching someone how to fish rather than just giving them fish,” he explains.

As for Langheier’s longer-term hopes for the company and the wider telenutrition space – he is fairly unequivocal:

“By 2030, we’d like to make the practice of doctors writing Foodscripts ubiquitous throughout the United States. Whether it’s diabetes, obesity or just trying to keep your kids healthy, we want folks to get a Foodscript from their doctor and then have quick access to a dietician as part of the primary care team. That’s our mission.”

Maya Garcia has been a Foodsmart service user since July of 2023. She has been living with a multitude of health conditions for the past few years having been diagnosed as prediabetic in 2021 and warned that she could face potential cirrhosis of the liver if she failed to lose weight. During her first six months using Foodsmart, Garcia shed 40 pounds and is no longer classed as prediabetic.

“Foodsmart has been a tremendous help in learning how to undo ‘diet culture’ rules and letting go of weight stigmas, something that has been my downfall in the past when trying to learn how to have a healthier relationship with food,” Garcia says.

Further adding, “I appreciate that my Foodsmart dietician, Grace, has taken my cultural background into consideration when making recommendations. She knows I was raised as a person of Mexican-American and Indigenous descent. She includes cultural foods such as dark chocolate, avocados, beans, and nopalitos (cactus) in my eating plan, which I really appreciate, and enjoy!”

Garcia’s experience is not uncommon. Foodsmart says that under its program 42% of members with food insecurity become food-secure within six months, 39% of patients with diabetes achieve control of blood sugar at 24 months and 55% of Medicaid members with obesity lose more than 5% of weight at 12 months.

Naturally, the proof of the pudding lies in the eating and the true value of “food as medicine” will only be fleshed out through the capture of long-term data showing how physician-prescribed dietary modification compares against, or alongside, traditional pharmaceuticals. To make this data more meaningful, there will need to be a significant educational drive to convince doctors of the true value of Foodscripts.

With a robust telenutrition technology stack and recent partnerships with major health systems already in place, Foodsmart will consider itself ideally positioned to drive healthy eating habits that can ultimately not only change lives but lengthen them too.

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