A new $250M approach to addressing health care patients’ food insecurities

Penn plays a major scientific role in new initiative backed by the American Heart Association- and Rockefeller Foundation-led consortium.

Perelman School of Medicine professor and Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics senior fellow Kevin Volpp, has become the Scientific Leader of a new national 10-year, $250 million research and advocacy program designed to find cost effective approaches to improving health through greater access to healthy food for patients with chronic conditions and food or nutrition insecurities (not enough food or unhealthy diets). The initiative is called Health Care by Food™ (HCXF).

A large group of people seated at tables at a conference.
Researchers and members of community-based organizations and food-related companies convened in April at the Wharton School for the first in-person gathering of the Health Care by Food™ initiative. (Image: Hoag Levins)

Coordinated by the American Heart Association with support from the Rockefeller Foundation and other funders, HCXF involves more than 100 researchers and members of 25 community-based organizations and food-related companies across the country.

Volpp, the Mark V. Pauly President’s Distinguished Professor at the Perelman School of Medicine and the Wharton School, and director of the Penn Center for Health Incentives and Behavioral Economics (CHIBE) is an internationally renowned expert in the field of behavioral economics.

The idea for what became the HCXF research initiative was first publicly announced at the September 2022 White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health. Subsequently, the Association’s Journal Circulation published “Food Is Medicine: A Presidential Advisory from the American Heart Association,” a paper produced by a team headed by Volpp. The paper outlined the logic and blueprint for a national program to develop evidence to inform interventions that could drive nutrition-related sensitivities and solutions deeper into the daily operations of the national health system.

The grant is one of the ways Penn leads on great challenges of our time by addressing the issue of food insecurity with policy and outreach expertise.

“There is growing recognition of the impact of social determinants of health and health behaviors among health systems and health plans,” Volpp says. “Part of the American Heart Association HCXF initiative’s goals will be to design program implementation in such a way so as to minimize incremental effort for the health system in referring patients with nutrition insecurity and chronic conditions, as appropriate, to food is medicine programs. As more and better evidence is developed it will become easier to know to which programs to refer individuals to help them improve their health as cost effectively as possible.”

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