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Food as Medicine

Food as Medicine

From Dr. Mark Hyman in

There is one place that nearly everything that matters in the world today converges: our food and our food system—the complex web of how we grow food, how we produce it, distribute and promote it; what we eat, what we waste and the policies that perpetuate unimaginable suffering and destruction across the globe that deplete our human, social, economic and natural capital.

Eleven million people die every year from eating ultra-processed food and not enough real food. More than 2 billion are overweight and sick because of our food system.  Over the next 35 years, the costs of chronic disease in the US, mostly driven by our industrial diet, will be $95 trillion, more than the annual economy of the entire world. Health care costs are threatening businesses and governments globally.

The single biggest driver of chronic disease, which affects 1 in 2 Americans, is our industrial ultra-processed diet. Food is the biggest cause of disease, the cure for most chronic diseases, yet doctors learn nothing about food in medical school, and our health care system focuses managing symptoms and diseases without addressing the root causes.  One in three Medicare dollars is spent on type 2 diabetes (and more if you include pre-diabetes). Data show that by simply annually providing $2400 of whole real foods and social support to food insecure poorly controlled type 2 diabetics and their families, health care costs could be cut 80% from $240,000 a year per patient to $48,000. 

Perverse financial incentives encourage intensive use of insulin, medications, amputations, and dialysis rather than food as medicine. Shifting health care’s focus to prevention, health promotion and using food as medicine through produce prescriptions, medically tailored meals, reimbursement for food as medicine would improve the health our nation while dramatically reducing health care costs. Changes in payments for services and programs that create health must be combined with polices shifts that address our toxic food environment. This includes supporting agricultural production of whole foods and regenerative agriculture, ending supports for commodity crops turned into disease producing ultra-processed foods, regulating food marketing and reforming our food programs (like SNAP) to address not only hunger, but health. These and other food and agriculture policies must be implemented to alter our toxic food environment and to address the loss of human, economic, social and natural capital.

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