Many of the world's most serious health issues are caused by eating. Malnutrition is the major cause of death and disability around the world. Poor diets are responsible for approximately 11 million deaths per year. That is greater than smoking, high blood pressure, or any other type of health risk. We are experiencing a global epidemic of diet-related chronic diseases.
The most serious problem is a persistent lack of availability of affordable, nutritional food. In 2020, about one-third of the world's population did not have appropriate food availability, resulting in escalating rates of undernutrition and overnutrition worldwide. Even in the United States, more than one out of every ten persons lacks consistent access to healthful foods.
Despite the well-established link between nutrition and health, we are not doing nearly enough — in the United States or globally — to incorporate food and nutrition into our health systems. For example, aspiring doctors in practically every country receive thousands of hours of medical training, yet little, if any, of that instruction focuses on nutrition and proper eating. Many health insurance policies cover the expense of treating an illness but not the cost of avoiding it through healthy eating and nutrition programs.
According to the UN, as a result, we have "not been generally progressing" toward a world in which everyone has access to safe, nutritious, and sufficient food. People everywhere will bear the price until we do.
It's time to bring food and nutrition front and center in our approach to health, and everyone can help. For far too long, the food industry has remained on the sidelines in the health arena, owing in part to a lack of incentives for corporations to participate and few tools to reliably quantify the effects when they do. We also lacked the infrastructure and technology to scale nutrition solutions to reach more than a small portion of the population until recently.
Fortunately, this is starting to change. As we learn more about food's potential as medicine, new opportunities for food-related firms to create real value for — and have an influence on — everyone from health systems to insurers to patients is emerging.
As a result, more grocers, consumer packaged goods firms, and food-focused NGOs are venturing deeper into the health arena.
Meanwhile, at Instacart, we have witnessed personally over the last ten years the enormous impact that technology can have on providing people with access to nutritious food. Recently, opportunities to use the same technology to power innovative nutrition programs and achieve great health outcomes for millions of people have emerged.
Today's capabilities have advanced to the point that we can now scale nutritious food-as-medicine projects in ways that were just not imaginable even a year or two ago. Physicians, for example, can now prescribe, order, and ship certain food items right to a patient's door, ensuring that the food is delivered on time.
In addition, new technologies enable health insurers to provide individuals with a weekly, category-specific grocery stipend suited to their health circumstances. Until recently, the breadth and scope of such personalized programs were limited. They can now reach millions of individuals.
This revolutionary technology has immense potential. For example, studies have shown that when people consume medically adjusted meals, they are less likely to be admitted to the hospital and spend less money on health care. Nutritious food may hold the key to a revolutionary new healthcare system in the future, one that uses food to help treat patients when they are sick and to prevent them from becoming sick in the first place.
To achieve this, everyone — from grocers and government officials to technology businesses and healthcare providers — must collaborate to advance food as medicine programs.
This entails forging bold collaborations between the public and commercial sectors, as well as assistance from nonprofits, academia, and research, to reinvent the role of food in preventative, curative, and restorative health. It also entails forging new links between industries that have been isolated for far too long, ranging from food and agriculture to hospitals and insurance to retail and technology.
The good news is that momentum is gaining traction.
The White House will host the first National Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health in more than 50 years in September 2022.
The summit, by bringing together leaders from government, industry, academia, and other sectors, shed much-needed light on nutrition-related concerns – and began to establish some of the links required to address them.
At the same time, government leaders from the United States, Spain, Germany, Colombia, Indonesia, Nigeria, the African Union, and the European Union convened for a Global Food Security Summit to accelerate action to combat global food insecurity and to explore opportunities to replace and scale innovative solutions.
These are positive steps. But, if we want to make the world a healthier place, we must go even further, bringing people together across industries and countries to tackle an old problem in novel ways. We must be daring and continue to push the envelope.
And we must use the power of technology to help scale these solutions so that they can benefit more people worldwide.
If we do, we will not just revolutionize the way the world views food. We'll also change the way people think about health, and millions of individuals will benefit as a result.
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