Nutritional Benefit Program Aims to Turn Sick Care Into Health Care

Food is nature’s medicine

As the founder and CEO of produce delivery service Farmbox Direct, I truly believe that food is one of the most powerful tools we have at our disposal for promoting better health. When you choose to eat healthy foods, the body reacts almost instantly by making you feel better, giving you more energy, and supporting clearer thoughts. As Hippocrates once said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” I view the food at the end of the fork as an opportunity to give the human body the nourishment it needs to heal and thrive! Food is nature’s medicine and should be treated as such.

Unfortunately, the current healthcare system has been failing to approach the prevention and treatment of illness for members from a health- focused angle, and instead has adopted a predominantly sick care approach, which leaves us in a precarious position. Americans are not educated on nutrition and healthy lifestyle practices as children. Instead, we unknowingly go into adulthood making food decisions that negatively impact our health outcomes later. Based on the sheer mass availability of junk food found in grocery and corner stores, and the ease and affordability of fast-food restaurants, Americans are vulnerable to poor eating choices. Metabolic health conditions have reached crisis level in American food deserts, places where people don’t have access to fresh, healthy food options. It seems that poor food choices have become so ingrained in our society that as a people, we have accepted the reality that our country, albeit one of the most influential nations in the world, is also one of the unhealthiest. According to the CDC, more than one-third of our citizens  are considered obese, and of these people most of them are likely to have one or more other diet-related illnesses including diabetes, high blood pressure and/or heart disease. There’s a serious problem here.

It’s critical that we turn sick care into health care.

With the trillions of dollars our country spends on healthcare costs each year, I’m still shocked at the fact that we are choosing to approach these issues from the same non-effective angles. Wait for a patient to become sick (an almost inevitable endpoint in a nation known for fast food chains and huge portions of processed foods,) treat them using pharmaceutical drugs or surgery, and have them on this cycle for the rest of their lives. All while advancing he extremely high costs associated with modern-day medicine and hospital visits. The CDC goes on to state that an astounding 90% of the $3.5 trillion in annual health care expenditures are spent on people with chronic health conditions. We need to realize that this system is not sustainable.

The number of obese and chronically ill Americans is on the rise and projected to continue to grow considering the generational trends in learned eating habits. There is a lack of education and conversation in the family-unit and classroom, as well as in the healthcare system entrusted with keeping us well today.

Fortunately, the current system does believe in providing medicine as a way to reverse unpreferred health conditions. This is a good starting point! The problem here is that

  1. the treatment comes after an issue
  2. it’s expensive
  3. it does NOT lead to proactively solving the why for how the issues arose

People go to their doctors seeking immediate solutions in the form of a pill or prescription even though these solutions are usually short-lived and involve hard work and lifestyle changes. The current system relies too heavily on the “magic fix” prescription drug or pill rather than teaching people how to make the changes necessary to facilitate long term change.

When it comes to the question of “how to be healthy,” I don’t think it’s about dieting or the latest health fad. It boils down to choosing to eat the foods that we know are good for us and viewing food as medicine. From an early age, some of us are introduced to the food pyramid and the idea of making sure to eat five servings of fruits and vegetables a day. And unfortunately, this minimal level of education doesn’t always reach the schools located in lower income communities whose people are the most susceptible to poor eating habits, setting an entire population of people at a disadvantage early on in their lives. We need to go back to our roots and lay a good foundation of nutrition education with ALL of our youth to begin breaking down the barriers that our current system has built.

We have built a nation that has a nutritional comfort zone of fast food, large portions, and an excess of salt and refined sugars. It would take a complete 180º

turnaround to put Americans on a track towards optimal health and longevity, with proper financial support to help facilitate eating more fruits and vegetables, exercising regularly, and drinking water. This is simple formula to ensure a healthier mind and body.

Link between diet and health

There’s no doubt that there is a strong correlation with the foods that we eat and our current state of health. After all, an apple a day keeps the doctor away, right? People trust their doctors to prescribe the right medicine, but what about healthy foods? Health insurance companies are quick to cover the costs of medicine when they should also be covering healthy foods for their members as a way to help treat metabolic and chronic conditions. This should be given major consideration when focusing on the overall wellness and well- being of a patient. Insulin, for instance, is prescribed to those diagnosed with diabetes and covered under health insurance because it’s expensive to purchase without health coverage. On the other hand, we know that proper nutrition and eating healthy can also help reverse type 2 diabetes. But depending on where you live, you may not even have access to the right foods that are good for you, a factor that can easily throw you back into the cycle of needing medicine. We truly need to rethink how this system works, and if it is working at all.

After this last year, the conversation around health is being had at more and more tables. Since 2014 my company Farmbox Direct has offered a subscription service to deliver farm-fresh fruits and vegetables directly to doorsteps nationwide. We want to encourage people to make healthy food choices, and that starts with us making it accessible.

In early 2020, we entered the healthcare industry to expand upon Farmbox Direct’s mission of making healthy foods accessible to all by partnering with Medicare Advantage programs through one of our Farmbox initiatives. This branch of the company is revolutionizing the future of healthcare by offering qualifying members a fresh box of fruits and vegetables under their health insurance coverage or member benefit programs.

“It would take a complete 180º turnaround to put Americans on a track towards optimal health and longevity, with proper financial support to help facilitate eating more fruits and vegetables, exercising regularly, and drinking water. This is simple formula to ensure a healthier mind and body.”

Since then, we have partnered with In COMM’s OTC (over the counter) Network card to offer our FarmboxRx fresh produce delivery benefit to more health plans across the country, delivering food as medicine nationwide.

The benefit will be available through participating Medicaid and Medicare Advantage plans, who can easily manage it alongside multiple benefits on a single card thanks to InComm Healthcare’s multi-wallet program.

We are excited to be partnering with the OTC Network to help keep plan members eating healthy while addressing social determinants of health (SDOH) issues like food insecurity, food deserts, managing chronic health conditions, and other challenges faced by many plan members. Our first- of-its-kind nutritional benefit program is offering a solution to help reverse diet-related chronic illnesses through lifestyle change. Having launched the initial FarmboxRx program with Vibra Health Plan of Pennsylvania, a division of the Capital Blue Cross Company, we have been able to get our fresh produce boxes into thousands of homes as a way to help combat chronic and diet- related illnesses. This includes boxes that cater to our diabetic and healthy- snack-seeking audiences, as well as those suffering from chronic inflammation, a condition which is often found at the root of many diseases. Our goal is to offer a food as medicine approach by focusing on delivering nutrient-dense produce with a total wellness experience including registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN)-approved recipes, diet-specific produce options, exercises and activities for mental health, as well as tips for healthy eating on a budget. Our educational magazines provide plan members with easy RDN-approved recipes, produce spotlights featuring the nutritional benefits of the foods, plus wellness activities and tips to support a healthy mind and body. We hope to reignite and redefine the fire and desire around food, cooking, and positive lifestyle practices that aid in feeling good for years to come!As an entrepreneur, but mother first, I’m always thinking of how I can help assist my daughter, while giving her the tools to be autonomous at the same time.

This is where my company Harlow’s Harvest was launched! Named after my little human (and actually started by her, too) we offer monthly subscription boxes for children as a way to reinvent nutrition and food education for young ones to help inspire a lifelong love of cooking. As many home economic programs have been taken out of the educational system, it is critical that our kids still learn the kitchen-based skill set that provides a foundation of fostering healthy eating habits. We offer hands-on cooking kits to help teach culinary skills to families, children, teens, and young adults who want to embark on a journey of kitchen confidence.

Through Farmbox Direct, FarmboxRx, and Harlow’s Harvest, I am dedicated to shifting the way the healthcare system approaches the discussion of member health and wellness by pioneering, and as a result revolutionizing the food as medicine initiative all across the nation.

ASHLEY TYRNER is the founder and CEO of Farmbox Direct, FarmboxRx, and Harlow’s Harvest. Ashley has gone from being a single mom on food stamps to the CEO of a national brand that aims to eradicate the food desert problem America faces. With a clear conviction that all people should have access to healthy food, Ashley works tirelessly to disrupt the health and food policy space. She can be reached at ashley@
Visit www.FarmboxRx. com for more information.