As the nation battles an obesity epidemic that adds $$ costs to U.S. national health spending, there are many opportunities to address this impactful social determinant of health to reduce health spending per person and to drive public and individual health. In this post, I examine a few very current events in the food-as-medicine marketspace.

Big Food as an industry gets a bad rap, as Big Tobacco and Big Oil have had. In the case of Big Food, the public health critique points to processed foods, those of high sugar content (especially when cleverly marketed to children), and sustainability. But there’s a new good news story in the world of Big Food that connects with health: Danone became a B Corp on 12 April.

“What’s a B Corp?” you ask? Companies that become Certified B Corporations are part of a global movement of people using business as a force for good (a phrase that is trademarked).

In the U.S., Ben & Jerry’s, Patagonia, King Arthur Flour Co., Cabot Creamery, and the Indigenous fashion brand are a handful of the over 2,400 companies that have undergone B Corps certification. This process reviews companies’ commitments to sustainability, social responsibility, and the environment. Danone joined this small circle of B Corps as the largest member among them, globally.

Danone recently divested its portfolio of any business that didn’t speak to health or some adjacency to wellness. In the U.S., consumers know Dannon best for yogurt, but the company globally serves up a lot more than cultures good for gut health. Several years ago, the parent Danone has doubled-down on the mission of making people healthier, and is strategically focused on sustainability, health and wellness. See the photo’s tagline: “One Planet, One Health.”

In the U.S., the company’s portfolio of brands includes Activia, DanActive, Danimals, Dannon, Horizon Organic, International Delight, Light & Fit, Oikos Greek yogurt, Silk plant-based foods and beverages, and more. Globally, Danone is very active across the continuum of health, from early life nutrition and to advanced medical nutrition.

This engaging video will answer more of your questions about B Corp’s.

Another food-health news story finds Jennifer Garner, the actress, joining forces as Chief Brand Officer and company co-founder at Once Upon A Farm, a baby food company co-founded by Annie’s Organics ex-CEO, John Foraker.

Once Upon A Farm works with partner farms on the U.S. west coast, positioning the baby-and-toddler foods as nutrient-dense without preservatives, concentrates or processed purees — “delivered fresh from farm to highchair™,” their tagline asserts.

I was particularly interested to read Garner’s comments quoted at the 2018 Natural Products Expo West trade show: she said, “We can’t just talk about feeding the top 10% of kids, or 50% of kids. We have to talk about how to give that nutrition to the bottom half.” Foraker reinforced her sentiment, saying that, “We want to build a leading kids nutrition brand. We think we have an opportunity to increase the quality and healthfulness of food for all kids in the U.S.”

Here’s a video about how they “make homemade so you don’t have to.”

The third news item in this food-as-medicine update follows up last week’s post on Livongo Health’s expanded diabetes care program partnering with Cambia Health, coupled with the company’s influx of $105 million. We intuited the company would use the money to scale beyond diabetes and nationally beyond Cambia’s geography. Today, Livongo announced its acquisition of Retrofit, a weight management company that works with employers like Aon Hewitt, Dr. Pepper Snapple, and PSEG to help workers deal with weight management and disease prevention.

Sustaining weight loss is very difficult: after seven years’ worth of data, Retrofit has shown impressive outcomes: 96% of participants who start the program complete it; 88% lost weight; and, 78% have maintained that weight loss a year later.

Health Populi’s Hot Points:  One of the long-missing pieces of this food-health puzzle has been medical education. “He knew the dearth of nutrition training in medical schools was a problem that went far beyond his experience. Five years ago, he left his university-based cardiology practice in Chicago to launch the Gaples Institute for Integrative Cardiology in Deerfield, Illinois, a nonprofit that aims to improve nutrition and lifestyle education for health care professionals,” a column published in last week’s JAMA points out, with “He” being Dr. Stephen Devries, executive director of the Institute and associate professor at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

Dr. Devries is optimistic about incentives aligning to encouraging more nutrition in both the med school curriculum and continuing medical education through online courses his group is developing, and other tactics you can read about in the JAMA article. He writes, “When it comes to the financial incentives, fortunately, those are beginning to shift. We’re moving toward a value-over-volume sort of reimbursement, which is going to look at outcomes as opposed to the number of procedures that we do. And what makes more sense than to work to prevent disease and to mitigate the severity of disease with a very low-cost intervention like diet and lifestyle?”

To that end, the New England Journal of Medicine published “Prescribing Food as a Specialty Drug” last week, featuring the Fresh Food Farmacy pioneered by Geisinger Health System.

The Geisinger team wrote that, “We focused on food because research suggests that food insecurity, or lack of access to nutritionally adequate food, is one of the most important risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes. Food-insecure adults are two to three times more likely to have diabetes than adults who are food secure,” exacerbated by low-incomes driving people to turn to inexpensive, accessible food rich in calories and poor in nutrients — risk factors for diabetes.

After screening for patients who are at food-risk for diabetes, the team serves up food prescriptions as well as identifying additional services to help bolster outcomes, including other social determinants of health like transportation, family care, and other services that will help people co-create health. The Geisinger team points out that a value-based payment environment fosters this kind of program.

The proof is in the outcomes-pudding shown here.

What all these programs bake into their value propositions is a commitment to helping people co-create health through engagement, nutrition, empowerment, and empathy.

They are all examples of how tools — including food itself — can be well-designed and put into peoples’ hands to improve health, wellness, and vitality.

We come full circle and return to the B Corps Declaration of Interdependence, which reads:

“We envision a new sector of the economy which harnesses the power of private enterprise to create public benefit.

This sector is comprised of a new type of corporation – the B Corporation – which is purpose-driven, and creates benefit for all stakeholders, not just shareholders.

As members of this emerging sector, and as entrepreneurs and investors in B Corporations,

We hold these truths to be self-evident:

That we must be the change we seek in the world;

That all business ought to be conducted as if people and place mattered;

That, through their products, practices and profits, businesses should aspire to do no harm and to benefit all;

To do so requires that we act with the understanding that we are teach dependent upon another and thus responsible for each other and future generations.”

Dealing with chronic conditions like obesity and overweight truly takes a health village of interdependent organizations driving public benefit in partnership with patients. We can all learn from B Corp’s Declaration as we continue to do our work to make healthcare better and help people be healthy, being the change we seek.

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