Expert Panel Discusses Community Solutions to Advance Food is Medicine Programs


Session at NACDS Total Store Expo discusses how pharmacies can leverage their accessibility to decrease diet-related diseases through health and wellness.

During a session at the NACDS Total Store Expo in San Diego, California, a group of panelists discussed Food is Medicine programs, diet-related diseases and how they pose a major threat to health and wellness. The panel also highlighted ways that pharmacies can implement new solutions across diverse communities.

Image credit: udra11 -

Image credit: udra11 -

President and CEO of NACDS, Steve C. Anderson, FASAE, CAE, IOM, introduced the session by noting it is one of his favorite events because it allows the panelists to take a deep dive into the issues, trends, and the future on behalf of the patients affected by social determinants of health and the broader community.

“In Good to Great by Jim Collins, he writes about having disciplined people, doing discipline, thoughts on discipline, and actions that make companies and organizations go from good to great. But you just can't focus on the discipline where you talk about the innovation,” Anderson said. “[Collins] has this concept that you protect the core and you stimulate progress. You must innovate if you're going to continue to survive and be great. I think that's what we are attempting to do here with the NACDS 2023 initiative with our focus on food as medicine, which I think is going to be very important.”

Aaron Wiese, NACDS Advisory Group, president, Hy-Vee and Inc. vice and chair, discussed the importance of addressing nutrition and diet-related diseases, touching on the White House conference on food and nutrition in 1969 that made history and allowed this topic to be highlighted.

Holly Freishtat, senior director, Feeding Change, Milken Institute, noted that the White House conference was able to build momentum and shift the role of pharmacy regarding Food is Medicine.

“What we're seeing is food access is not enough. Giving food is not enough. Having grocery stores and pharmacies in the right locations geographically is not enough. We must be able to link access to care from insurance companies to doctors, to pharmacies, directly to care outcomes,” Freishtat said.

During her time at the Milken Institute, Freishtat investigated solutions to place food as a part of the health system and care model. This included efforts such as connecting a produce prescription, medically-tailored meals, or medically-tailored groceries as well as actual care and treatment. Freishtat said she is fascinated by the idea of creating a prescription that outlines food for patients to receive. She also discussed how to prepare food and treatment for the prevention of chronic diseases.

Laura Makaroff, DO, senior vice president of Prevention and Survivorship from American Cancer Society, noted the importance of addressing these nutritional disparities from a disease prevention standpoint. Makaroff noted that conditions affected by poor nutrition include heart diseases, stroke, diabetes, and cancer.

“I don't think people recognize that 1 in 5 cancers can be linked to a combination of an unhealthy diet, physical inactivity, alcohol use, and excess body weight. One in 5 cancers—that's a lot of cancers—could be prevented,” Makaroff said.

She added that helping people access nutritious food could have a significant impact on cancer prevention, noting that inceasing awareness, understanding, and empowerment would help individuals make good, healthy choices.

The panel then discussed the issue of social determinants of health from a pharmacy perspective and the importance for pharmacies to get involved in the Food is Medicine conversation. James Kirby, PharmD, BCPS, CDE, chief commercial officer, Kroger Health, discussed the progress achieved to date in treating the individuals as a whole person and providing holistic care.

“It all starts with trying to look out from behind the counter, not just dispensing prescriptions, and recognize that prescription is just one need that patients have,” Kirby said. “There is a whole host of other things that could be plaguing them, which you'll never know until you form a relationship with them. We are creating a new public perception of what pharmacists can do and taking that to the next level.”

The panelists then discussed dream scenarios for the future of Food is Medicine from a pharmacy standpoint. Makaroff said that her dream future would be to help everyone gain access to nutritious foods and to reduce the burden of diet-related diseases. Kirby said that his dream is for pharmacies to become a community health destination, rather than just a closed health care system.

“We have a responsibility that no others have. We have this great access to the patient, and we not only know what they're buying, we know about their lives,” he said. “We know about their kids, their grandkids, their parents, the football games, and all the things that go on. We need to leverage those relationships into doing something more. It starts with connecting with customers on an emotional personal level, but where you take it from there is endless. You can wave your own magic wand at that point in time.”


Pharmacies Feeding Innovation: Creative Community Solutions to Advance Food is Medicine. Presented at: NACDS TSE Conference 2023. San Diego, California. August 12, 2023.

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