October 1, 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 exhibits that there are each well being and price advantages to meals and vitamin packages. 

There are a selection of meals as medication fashions, comparable 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, in line with a report printed Friday by PitchBook. The report, authored by Rising Know-how Analyst Aaron DeGagne, laid out 4 key challenges and critiques:

1. Resistance to eating regimen restrictions: Some customers could push again towards meals restrictions in meals as medication packages, notably government-led packages as a result of “they could possibly be seen as the federal government telling individuals what to eat,” the report said. Nonetheless, a number of distributors informed PitchBook that their meals packages provide “flexibility” to individuals. Moreover, some individuals could also be keen to have interaction in a extra restrictive eating regimen if it means they’ll keep away from costly prescriptions and expensive surgical procedures sooner or later.

2. Meals high quality: One concern for meals as medication packages is that some distributors provide “extremely processed meals.” Components like corn syrup and preservatives are recognized to extend the chance of continual illnesses, and “medical and useful meals which might be extremely processed could face a tougher 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 goals but in addition restrict pointless additive substances (whereas remaining palatable to customers),” the report mentioned.

3. Attribution: A balanced eating regimen is just one issue to being wholesome. Different components 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 strategy, it could even be troublesome to attribute well being enhancements to a single prepared-meal vendor or a limited-dollar produce subsidy,” DeGagne famous. “Further scientific knowledge might assist better 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 troublesome to trace compliance with meals as medication packages, as there aren’t any wearable gadgets that may accomplish that. This makes it much more difficult to gather scientific knowledge 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 troublesome fundraising local weather. A number of meals packages have raised funds to this point in 2023, together with Mend ($15 million in Sequence A), Modify Health ($10 million in Sequence B), Bitewell ($4 million in seed funding) and Free From Market ($2.1 million in seed funding). PitchBook foresees firms with “built-in” packages — comparable to a mixture of meals supply, teaching and vitamin companies — being probably the most profitable. One firm the report referred to as out is Faeth, which gives ready-to-go meals to assist most cancers care and an app that offers on-demand assist from nutritionists.

The report famous that a number of healthcare gamers have a task to play in advancing meals as medication packages. Suppliers will seemingly begin to provide vitamin packages to sufferers after they turn into extra obtainable via 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 might result in more cost effective procedures down the street and the packages can “be used as a advertising and marketing effort” to realize 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 via correct vitamin,” DeGagne mentioned. Kaiser Permanente and Geisinger, each payviders, have launched pilot meals as medication packages, and these efforts could possibly 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 could possibly be a great start line.

“We maintain the view that medically tailor-made meals could be a good preliminary entry level for meals as medication, and members might later transition to lower-cost packages centered on vitamin and dietary steerage,” the report mentioned. “For instance, in a consolidated platform, customers might have entry to medically tailor-made meals which might be totally coated for a time period after which be supplied common appointments with a coach or dietitian on an ongoing foundation. This strategy serves a twin function of maintaining customers energetic on a food-as-medicine platform for an extended interval and controlling prices to allow better scale.”

Photograph: vgajic, Getty Photographs