Almost three-quarters of all deaths globally are the result of chronic diseases according to the World Health Organization. And of those deaths, 80% are from cardiovascular diseases, cancers, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes – all of which are impacted by unhealthy diets.

Taking a holistic view of the impact of a patient’s lifestyle and economic status, healthcare providers are going beyond traditional prescriptions to fight illness as the links between health and healthy eating have never been clearer.

Affordability is a key barrier to accessing fresh fruit and vegetables for many people. So in the U.S., a health food store About Fresh has developed a food prescription program Fresh Connect which uses prepaid debit cards to buy fruit and vegetables which healthcare providers prescribe to low-income patients.

In 2022, the Boston-based non-profit partnered with both Giant Food and Stop & Shop grocery retailers to expand access to the program across the retailers’ locations. Kroger, in partnership with Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Kentucky launched their own debit card style plan, giving eligible Medicare recipients a Healthy Groceries Card which is loaded with up to $100 per month to spend on healthy food at their stores. Part of their healthcare arm’s overall Food as Medicine platform, Kroger also pledged a further $250 million in September to build a national Food as Medicine research initiative.

Over in London, general practitioners (GPs) in two London boroughs are piloting prescriptions to Rose Vouchers in partnership with the Alexandra Rose Charity. The Rose Vouchers will be used by lower income families to buy fruit and vege from local grocery retailers and food markets. The idea behind the program is to help parents improve not only the diet of their children, but their own eating habits. Speaking about the reasoning behind the pilot, GP and Professor Sir Sam Everington said, “A healthy diet can often achieve far more than any medicines I can prescribe.”

Announced in September as part of the Biden administration’s plan to improve health outcomes for the country, the American College of Lifestyle Medicine plans to donate 5.5 hours of nutrition education to 100,000 healthcare providers, while the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation have announced the expansion of their Food is Medicine program pledging $3.5 million to fund and facilitate partnerships between healthcare providers and community organisations.

Proving the efficacy of these types of programs, research from The George Institute for Global Health and UNSW Sydney found that people with Type 2 Diabetes who participated in a produce prescription program over 12 weeks saw significant health improvements and ate nearly two extra servings of fruit and veggies a day.

As seen in the Future 100 trend cultural prescriptions, doctors are moving beyond pills and traditional medical interventions and embracing prescription nutrition to incorporate a range of lifestyle options. By aiming to tackle inequalities and access to healthy food, healthcare providers, charities and grocery retailers are aiming for tangible impacts on a systemic level.