December 8, 2023

The meals as medication motion has been selecting up steam, with the White Home gathering $8 billion in commitments for meals packages, payers launching medically-tailored meal pilots and startups gaining funding from traders. Rising analysis reveals that there are each well being and price advantages to meals and vitamin packages. 

There are a selection of meals as medication fashions, similar to medically tailor-made meals (ready-to-eat meals), produce prescriptions (when sufferers get vouchers to buy wholesome meals) and medical and useful meals (condition-specific meals that require preparation).

Whereas there are advantages to meals as medication, there are a number of challenges going through the motion, based on a report printed Friday by PitchBook. The report, authored by Rising Expertise Analyst Aaron DeGagne, laid out 4 key challenges and critiques:

1. Resistance to weight-reduction plan restrictions: Some customers could push again in opposition to meals restrictions in meals as medication packages, notably government-led packages as a result of “they might be seen as the federal government telling individuals what to eat,” the report said. Nevertheless, a number of distributors advised PitchBook that their meals packages supply “flexibility” to contributors. Moreover, some contributors could also be prepared to interact in a extra restrictive weight-reduction plan if it means they’ll keep away from costly prescriptions and dear surgical procedures sooner or later.

2. Meals high quality: One concern for meals as medication packages is that some distributors supply “extremely processed meals.” Components like corn syrup and preservatives are identified to extend the chance of continual illnesses, and “medical and useful meals which might be extremely processed could face a more difficult path in receiving suggestions from care suppliers,” DeGagne said.

“This raises the bar for medical & useful meals distributors to point out their meals merchandise not solely accomplish medical aims but in addition restrict pointless additive elements (whereas remaining palatable to customers),” the report mentioned.

3. Attribution: A balanced weight-reduction plan is just one issue to being wholesome. Different elements that have an effect on well being embrace genetic danger, environmental publicity and autoimmune circumstances. 

“On condition that meals as medication should be a part of a balanced method, it might even be tough to attribute well being enhancements to a single prepared-meal vendor or a limited-dollar produce subsidy,” DeGagne famous. “Further scientific information may help higher reimbursement of meals as medication, although contemplating these attribution challenges, there is a component of belief at play that food-as-medicine distributors should be cautious to not lose.”

4. Compliance: It is rather tough to trace compliance with meals as medication packages, as there aren’t any wearable units that may achieve this. This makes it much more difficult to gather scientific information and perceive the affect of meals as medication packages.

Whereas there are challenges to meals as medication packages, DeGagne nonetheless anticipates a future for them, notably given the curiosity from traders throughout a tough fundraising local weather. A number of meals packages have raised funds up to now in 2023, together with Mend ($15 million in Collection A), Modify Health ($10 million in Collection B), Bitewell ($4 million in seed funding) and Free From Market ($2.1 million in seed funding). PitchBook foresees corporations with “built-in” packages — similar to a mixture of meals supply, teaching and vitamin providers — being essentially the most profitable. One firm the report referred to as out is Faeth, which provides ready-to-go meals to help most cancers care and an app that offers on-demand help from nutritionists.

The report famous that a number of healthcare gamers have a task to play in advancing meals as medication packages. Suppliers will possible begin to supply vitamin packages to sufferers once they develop into extra accessible by well being plans. 

Managed care organizations (MCOs) even have a chance, as meals packages are sometimes focused towards underserved and low-income teams. MCOs have two main incentives for getting concerned in these sorts of packages: they may result in more cost effective procedures down the street and the packages can “be used as a advertising and marketing effort” to achieve extra members.

Payviders have a task as properly, since they’re within the “distinctive place of proudly owning their very own practices and are subsequently extremely incentivized to cut back the price of continual circumstances that may be prevented by correct vitamin,” DeGagne mentioned. Kaiser Permanente and Geisinger, each payviders, have launched pilot meals as medication packages, and these efforts might be superior after Kaiser’s acquisition of Geisinger.

Whereas healthcare gamers could also be cautious of packages like medically-tailored meals as a result of they might require long-term funding, PitchBook mentioned they might be an excellent start line.

“We maintain the view that medically tailor-made meals is usually a good preliminary entry level for meals as medication, and members may later transition to lower-cost packages targeted on vitamin and dietary steerage,” the report mentioned. “For instance, in a consolidated platform, customers may have entry to medically tailor-made meals which might be absolutely coated for a time frame after which be provided common appointments with a coach or dietitian on an ongoing foundation. This method serves a twin objective of protecting customers lively on a food-as-medicine platform for an extended interval and controlling prices to allow higher scale.”

Picture: vgajic, Getty Photos