Massachusetts Medical Society: State Focuses on Improving Health, Lowering Costs through Nutrition Interventions

State Focuses on Improving Health, Lowering Costs through Nutrition Interventions

By Kristin Sukys, Policy Analyst, Harvard Law School’s Center for Health Law & Policy Innovation

Lack of reliable access to nutritious food is a key driver of poor health outcomes, health care utilization, and costs. Food insecurity costs Massachusetts $1.9 billion in avoidable medical expenses each year. Research has shown that Food is Medicine (FIM) interventions, such as medically tailored meals and produce prescriptions, can address the nutritional needs of individuals coping with or at risk for diet-related chronic illnesses, resulting in improved health outcomes and lower health care costs. However, access to FIM interventions remains limited.

Over the past two years, the Massachusetts Food is Medicine State Plan, an initiative of Community Servings and Harvard Law School’s Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation, has brought together stakeholders from across the state to develop a blueprint for scaling access to FIM services. The state plan evaluates the need for, access to, and barriers associated with FIM across the Commonwealth. Using data from surveys, listening sessions, consumer interviews, and geographic information system mapping, the plan outlines 15 policy recommendations spanning five areas: provider knowledge and screening; patient referral and connection; high-quality, appropriate services available in the community; sustainable funding for Food is Medicine interventions; and leadership engagement and system transformation.

Recognizing the role that physicians and other clinicians play in identifying and responding to food insecurity among their patients, the state plan offers several recommendations, including the creation of a provider nutrition education and referral task force. The task force, which will be co-chaired by the Massachusetts Medical Society, will be charged with working to improve physician and clinician nutrition knowledge by creating nutrition-oriented continuing education modules and supporting ongoing efforts to strengthen the role of nutrition in curricula and licensing exams.

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