American Heart Association funds Ohio State’s research to bring healthy food into health care delivery 

heart and nutrition

The need for better prevention and treatment of cardiovascular disease spurred leaders at the American Heart Association (AHA) to play a pivotal role in advancing an Ohio State University research project that provides food and other supports to medically and financially at-risk patient populations. Their efforts were motivated by a 2022 White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health to ensure fewer Americans experience diet-related diseases like diabetes, obesity and hypertension.

The AHA’s new Health Care by Food initiative supports grant funding, totaling $7.8 million, to 19 research projects nationwide to develop strategic interventions to treat, manage and prevent comprehensive cardiometabolic disorders in people with, or at elevated risk for, these chronic health conditions.

An innovative study at The Ohio State University College of Medicine titled “SUSTAIN: Promoting sustained behavior change and nutrition security in Medicaid-enrolled individuals with Stage 2 Cardiovascular-Kidney-Metabolic Syndrome,” will be led by academic-community-government-industry partners including: 

  • Joshua J. Joseph, MD, MPH, FAHA, associate professor of Internal Medicine, Ohio State College of Medicine 
  • Colleen K. Spees, PhD, MEd, FAHA, associate professor, The Ohio State University School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences
  • Daniel M. Walker, PhD, MPH, associate professor and vice chair for research, the Department of Family and Community Medicine, Ohio State College of Medicine 
  • Jenelle Hoseus, chief executive officer, Health Impact Ohio Central Ohio Pathways HUB 
  • Amy Headings, PhD, RD, LD, director of Research and Nutrition, Mid-Ohio Food Collective 
  • Sarah Mastrorocco, vice president and general manager, Instacart Health 
  • Javonte McDonald, MBA, director, The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center Healthy Community Center

“We’ll evaluate the efficacy of strategic approaches for providing healthy food as part of patient care to help treat, manage and prevent chronic health conditions in ways that alleviate health inequities,” Dr. Joseph says.

Drs. Joseph and Walker will collaborate with Dr. Spees, who has experience studying the impacts of nutrition on high-risk cohorts living with cancer and diet-related chronic diseases. Produce grown through her living lab at The Ohio State Waterman Agricultural and Natural Resources Laboratory has been distributed to underserved people in the community.

For SUSTAIN, the team has created a novel Food is Medicine trial program.

“We will be providing home-delivered medically tailored groceries, intensive nutrition counseling and social needs support to empower participants to engage and adopt healthier lifestyles,” Dr. Spees says. “We’re applying what we’ve learned in evidence-based research that can be embraced and integrated into daily life.”

The focus of Dr. Walker’s work is to produce practice-oriented conclusions that can benefit health care delivery. The SUSTAIN study’s examination of the impact of Food is Medicine pairs his diversified experience with new opportunities for collaboration. 

“Increasing access to culturally appropriate and home-delivered foods, along with tailored behavioral counseling and care coordination, will help address non-medical health-related social needs,” Dr. Walker says. “This will support health system-based approaches to address health disparities and develop effective programs for the millions of Americans living with, or at high risk for, chronic health conditions.”

The researchers credit co-investigators, Amaris Williams, PhD, Guy Brock, PhD, Jade M. Smith, MS, RD, LD, and the support of the Care Innovation and Community Improvement Program team. This team supported the foundation of this project, including the Mid-Ohio Farmacy program in collaboration with the Mid-Ohio Food Collective, Health Impact Ohio’s Central Ohio Pathways Hub, which helps address social needs and the Ohio State Wexner Medical Center Healthy Community Center, which will be a site for nutrition-based education and cooking demonstrations. The project additionally partners with Instacart for food delivery.

“This project aligns with our partnership with the Central Ohio American Heart Association,” Dr. Joseph says. “The AHA’s new Health Care by Food initiative is leading the way in prescribing healthy food in the health care setting.”