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Defining Food as Medicine in Food Retail

Jan 15, 2021

By Krystal Register, MS, RDN, LDN, Director, Health & Well-being, FMI

The concept of “Food as Medicine” is based on the science of connecting food to improved health. At a time when we know there is growing consumer interest in eating better to strengthen immunity and prevent disease, it is appropriate to talk about the role of food in the context of medicine as food can be used to prevent disease and promote health, manage chronic conditions and simply nourish. Food can fit responsibly into a more proactive and holistic approach to healthcare that starts at the grocery store.

Food as Medicine in the food retail world includes three primary focus areas to help with health through diet and nutrition:

  1. Promote health and well-being.
  2. Manage chronic disease (along with prescribed pharmaceuticals).
  3. Improve food and nutrition security.

This conceptual definition for Food as Medicine was developed by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Foundation’s “Nutrition in Food Retail Program Development” program, which analyzed the landscape of current food retail nutrition programs to assess improvement in health and cost effectiveness. Currently, there is no consistent definition recognized by the general public, healthcare professionals or the food industry for Food as Medicine. With support for this conceptual definition, we can all work to develop initiatives that connect food and health in responsible and practical ways to proactively improve public health.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Foundation research found that Food as Medicine interventions in the retail setting produced successful outcomes regarding increased sales and revenue and/or positive behavior change (healthier shopping purchases and improved eating habits). Both return on investment and improved health outcomes were achieved with multiple category interventions and strategic involvement of the registered dietitian to increase awareness, knowledge and skill of selecting and preparing wholesome, nutrient-dense foods and meals. Watch our recent Food as Medicine webinar for more detailed information on definition and retail program models.

Many retailers, suppliers and manufacturers are already functioning in this space with programs to help consumers better understand how to gradually adopt healthy eating habits grounded in the Dietary Guidelines. Many retailers are also going the extra step to include programs that help consumers manage chronic disease with food, information and personalized diet education with registered dietitians. Retailers and suppliers are also actively engaged in efforts to continuously deliver and improve food and nutrition security.

It is important to note that when we talk about Food as Medicine we are talking about real food with real benefits to real people – not pharmaceuticals or alternative therapies, detoxes, cleanses or magic bullets. As a registered dietitian, I know the positive role that food can play in the world of medicine when it comes to overall health. I also recognize that food plays many roles in society that contribute to overall well-being: joy, calm, togetherness, cultural and family connectedness, especially at mealtime. 

FMI will continue to collaborate with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics on Food as Medicine efforts to promote best practices and provide a framework for program model implementation. The ultimate goal is to best serve our FMI members, the Academy and our community partners to keep the Food as Medicine application safe, focused on food, responsible and good for both the industry and overall public health, while also focusing on the strategic leadership and value of the registered dietitian. 

Watch The Food as Medicine Webinar