The Long-term Health Benefits Of A More Healthy Food: Affordable Care Act

Table of Content

Americans know that fruits and vegetables are a healthy source of nutrition, this knowledge is offset by the food industry’s $2 billion campaign that teaches young people to desire highly processed junk foods. Feeding America estimates that elementary school students only receive about 3.4 hours of nutritional education per year. Working hand in hand with public health entities, local public school boards, and healthcare providers to push policies relating to improving fresh food consumption can increase education among Medicaid populations regarding the long-term health benefits of a more nutritious diet.

Social determinants of health, particularly financial status and education level, are strong indicators of future health outcomes. As healthcare delivery models created by the Affordable Care Act begin to further emphasize outcome-driven coordinated patient care, approaches such as medically tailored food and nutrition intervention services as an Essential Health Benefit can prove an effective means of driving down Medicaid costs associated with treating chronic diet-related diseases such as type two diabetes and heart disease. While amending the Affordable Care Act would evoke drastic political action, smaller-scale changes can be made on a more local level to improve health education and overall health outcomes in the long run. Unlike more controversial measures such as taxing soda or sugar-sweetened beverages, smaller changes require less political effort as public health officials can easily pilot programs before spreading them to an entire municipality.

Currently, schools provide a large percentage of the meals children consume, especially as many school districts have expanded their kitchens to include breakfast and dinner meal programs. Further expansion of these programs can encourage children to consume more fresh fruits and vegetables while also teaching beneficial nutritional strategies children can use in the future. School gardens and farm-to-school programs offer helpful insight for children to learn first-hand how food reaches their plate. These new learning techniques, coupled with rudimentary cooking classes, provide an enriching educational experience that children can take with them long after they graduate. Turning to adults, clinical interventions are more effective than counseling or education in promoting healthier behavior; which is why healthcare providers play such a pivotal role in this discussion. If hospitals can implement medically-tailored food programs, they can target individuals in need of dietary interventions and provide patients with food that is prescribed by healthcare providers and reimbursed through public or private insurance.

The goals of these programs are to provide healthy food to chronically undernourished patients while simultaneously improving long-term health outcomes. If State Medicaid programs can provide funding, medically tailored food programs can reduce government spending on costlier care for chronic diseases long-term. Further, as healthcare reimbursement shifts to a more outcome-driven, coordinated patient care model, approaches like this will be critical in increasing quality of care with relatively low costs to insurers, particularly to Medicaid. These programs can serve to increase patient education as to the benefits of consuming a healthier diet and, alongside an improvement in food affordability and food access, can lead to a significant reduction of many of the preventable chronic diet-related diseases currently plaguing our healthcare system and placing the financial burden on our Medicaid system. Conclusion Obesity-related health conditions continue to take a toll on the health system and affect a higher percentage of Americans each year, specifically low-income Medicaid-eligible populations.

This has lead to astronomical spending in the healthcare sector, as these diseases are treated only once individuals are diagnosed due to a fundamental lack of preventative measures that would inhibit individuals from becoming susceptible in the first place. Gaps in food affordability, access, and education have rendered much of the Medicaid population unable to acquire the proper nutrition needed to live a long, healthy life free of these diseases. While the public health community must act swiftly, lawyers can play a vital role in bringing appropriate parties to the table and allowing them to work through the difficulties experienced thus far in providing proper sustenance to all who need it. While no single solution exists to solving this problem, multiple interventions used in conjunction with one another, can provide an effective starting point to reducing the harmful effects of food insecurity and improve food affordability, food access, and food education among low-income Medicaid-eligible populations.

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