February 27, 2024

Addressing hunger and nutrition to improve health

In alignment with the White House, Kaiser Permanente continues its work to help provide nutritious food to more people.

Healthy food is essential for a healthy life. Everyone should have access to nutritious food.

In 2022, Kaiser Permanente supported the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health by committing $50 million over 8 years to strengthen programs that make healthy food available to more people.

The White House is continuing the work started at that conference with a new Challenge to End Hunger and Build Healthy Communities.

We are joining public and private organizations across the country to participate in this new challenge with expanded work to support the White House goals to end hunger and increase healthy eating by 2030.

Our progress and plans in support of the White House goals are significant.

  • Helped more than 100,000 members apply for food assistance — Many people eligible for SNAP, the U.S. Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, don’t know about it or don’t know how to apply. SNAP provides people who have low incomes a monthly payment to spend on food. People may also be eligible for WIC, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, and need help applying. We’ve reached out to millions of our members since 2019 to raise awareness about these vital public benefits and helped 125,000 members apply.
  • Started a produce prescription program — We want to better understand how providing nutritious food improves people’s health. From 2021 to 2022, we delivered over 7,200 boxes of fruits and vegetables in Southern California. These went to people with low incomes who have uncontrolled diabetes and were experiencing food insecurity. Early results are promising. People who received these boxes had lower levels of blood sugar, or glucose, in the months after receiving the food. Lowering blood sugar is an important way to avoid the problems caused by diabetes.
  • Teamed up with Instacart to study how supporting healthy food deliveries can improve health — We’re learning that people want more options when receiving deliveries from healthy food prescription programs. That’s why we’re working with Instacart to study the results of giving money to people with diet-related diseases. They can then use that money to buy their own healthy groceries for delivery. The study population includes MediCal patients with diet-related diseases.
  • Supported development of a Food Is Medicine research initiative — Food Is Medicine is a national movement that recognizes that nutritious food can help prevent and manage ongoing health conditions. The American Heart Association and the Rockefeller Foundation started this research initiative in 2022. We’re helping fund the movement and are deeply involved in the national steering committee. Our expertise as a health care organization is essential in advising on ways to create realistic programs that make sense for people who don’t have enough nutritious food. One goal is to research and share ways the health care community as a whole can increase access to nutritious foods to advance food security and health equity.
  • Launched the Kaiser Permanente Community Support Hub — The Kaiser Permanente Community Support Hub is a national support center available to anyone who needs help meeting their basic needs. The hub can help people find programs to access healthy food, get money to pay bills, or find a safe place to live. It includes an online directory and call center, among other services to help people find local resources, such as food banks. They can also learn about government food programs such as SNAP.
  • Co-founded the national Food Is Medicine Network of Excellence along with Tufts University — This network will bring together organizations with expertise in health care, research, and nutrition. Working together, we aim to make a greater impact on reducing hunger, preventing and treating diet-related diseases, and improving health equity. We co-founded the network with the Food Is Medicine Institute at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University.

“Our partnerships with Instacart, the American Heart Association, the Rockefeller Foundation, and Tufts University reflect how public and private organizations can work together to end hunger and improve nutrition,” said Bechara Choucair, MD, senior vice president and chief health officer at Kaiser Permanente. “We are proud to collaborate on efforts to coordinate, share, and sustain food and nutrition capabilities for our members and communities.”

Preventing avoidable deaths

Adults who eat a healthy diet tend to live longer. They also have a lower risk of diet-related diseases, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity.

With our dedicated efforts and partnerships, we can end hunger, boost healthy eating, and put our patients on the path of living their best lives.

Our focus is not only to end hunger but to increase healthy eating as a way for people to avoid becoming sick or recover more quickly when they do.

Each year, more than a million Americans die from diet-related diseases, according to the Food and Drug Administration. And the U.S. spends $1.1 trillion on diet-related diseases.

We believe many of these deaths and much of this spending could be prevented.

“Increasing access to nutritious food is one of the best ways we can combat diet-related diseases and support our efforts as clinicians to address all factors that contribute to a person’s health,” said Nancy Gin, MD, executive vice president of quality and chief quality officer at The Permanente Federation. “With our dedicated efforts and partnerships, we can end hunger, boost healthy eating, and put our patients on the path of living their best lives.”