Population Health Blog

Population Health Blog

Why It Matters

A commercial answer to ‘crappy’ foods to feed the world?

By Dennis Archambault

It’s intriguing to read a commercial advertisement for a company that proposes a disruptive thought: “The only way to feed lots of folks is to feed them lots of crappy food. Because crappy food is cheap. And it’s tasty. And it’s easy. And we all nod our heads, not because we don’t care, but because there doesn’t seem to be a better way…” That’s from an advertisement placed in the New York Times on June 28, 2015 by Hampton Creek, a San Francisco-based food technology company.

The ad goes on: “A carrot is 30 percent more expensive today. A can of corn-based soda? 34 percent cheaper. It’s an approach to food we’ve had since 1972. If we think with the same mental model, if we do the same things that created a world of crappy food, we’re not going to create something that is just better. What would it look like if we started over?”

Hampton Creek, an upstart among food processing giants like Kraft and Nestle, says it wants to develop products such as “Just Mayo,” which offers a product that tastes like traditional the egg-based without eggs. Instead, data analysts and biochemists deconstruct 4,000 plant samples and analyze their molecular structures to create different combinations that taste good. After all, the ad continues, “the only way the good thing wins is when he good thing is so radically better than the not-so-good thing that you cannot help but do it. If it’s not affordable and delicious, it’s completely irrelevant to solving the problem… That’s our philosophy of change.”

As with many commercial advertisements, Hampton Foods is alluding to the bigger question, “How do we create food products that are nutritious and socially responsibility in the context of sustainability, accessibility, and affordability?” That’s the population health question.

Much of the conversation about food distribution has been about “farm-to-table” solutions; local production, four-season farming in northern climates, neighborhood-based markets, fresh food cooking education, etc. However, much of the food we eat, and will continue to eat, will be processed. Hampton Foods is a commercial answer. And investors apparently are taking them seriously.

FoodLab Detroit https://foodlabdetroit.com/who-we-are/leadership is an organization that is working with the Detroit Eastern Market Corporation and its new community kitchen capacity, to create food products and distribution solutions. FoodLab membership involves several food processing entrepreneurs who are looking at food through a nutritious and sustainable-use lens. Also, the Detroit Food Academy http://detroitfoodacademy.com/, is giving high school students an early lesson in proper food preparation that could result in new entrepreneurs.

Hampton Foods has investors, vision, and the scientific team to do well by preparing good food. They claim that in 2015 its food processing has resulted in 1.5 billion gallons of water saved, 11.8 billion milligrams of sodium avoided, and 2.8 billion milligrams of cholesterol avoided.” How much of that is “marketing numbers” (after all, it is an advertisement…) is unknown. Suffice to say that they seem to be doing the right thing. What’s important is their vision proposal: “It’s difficult to see the world without preconceptions. But making a significant impact requires us to close our eyes — and open them back up as if we’re seeing the world for the very first time. To see the world without those rules that lock us in is to see, well, a better way. Potentially, many times better. And how we feed ourselves, something that consumes us as a company that makes better food, requires abandoning what we think we know.”

Dennis Archambault is director of Public Affairs for Authority Health.






Prescriptions for a healthier community

By Dennis Archambault

Health providers are increasingly being drawn into population health. Population health certification, offered by the University of Michigan School of Public Health for Authority Health teaching health center residents, with a related community health rotation, orients physicians destined for private or community health center practice to the broader concerns of public health.

The “Fresh Prescription” program http://www.ecocenter.org/newsletter/2015-03/fresh-prescription-recipe-healthy-detroit, sponsored by the Ecology Center in Wayne County, encourages providers treating low income, chronically ill people to prescribe fruit and vegetable consumption through a counseling program, connected with local farm markets. The program introduces people to nutritious elements in their diet.

The National Parks Service (NPS) recently has begun promoting the “Park Prescription” program http://www.parksconservancy.org/assets/programs/igg/pdfs/park-prescriptions-2010.pdf, which helps primary care providers identify and recommend park trails and exercise programs for their patients. Inactivity has long been connected with obesity, and obesity to chronic disease. Beyond recommending diet and exercise in a general sense, providers under cost and time constraints often leave their patients with limited direction as to what they should do — other than find some place to exercise.

NPS takes the idea of exercise into their realm: “A growing body of research suggests that exposure to nature and outdoor exercise has significant health benefits such as improved wellness and mental health, reduced stress, and lower blood pressure.” So, the idea is not just to walk around the block or join a health club and walk on a treadmill, but find a park and walk on a trail.

Nature offers a qualitative difference, NPS says. Citing a 2005 article in the Journal of Medicine, NPS says that people with ready access to park or open space were 50 percent more likely to adhere to a regular walking regime and that runners report lower levels of stress and depression when exercising in nature than when exercising in an urban setting

Another study in Preventive Medicine revealed that fewer than 14 percent of primary care providers regularly gave any form of counseling on exercise.

An earlier, 2003 study in Preventive Medicine identified an annual reduction in average healthcare charges of $2,200 per person per year for individuals who were initially sedentary (physically active one or fewer days per week) and later became physically active three or more days per week.

The NPS “urban agenda” is aware that cities like Detroit, without national parks and many non-maintained parks in unsafe areas, need a different orientation to Park Prescriptions. Further complicating the issue is research that recommends against outdoor exercise in heavily industrial areas like the Rouge River Downriver Delta communities.

However, NPS is building one-mile walking trails in Rouge Park. An NPS fellow and intern are working closer with the city’s park system to create walk-able routes that provide a more natural environment than concrete streetscapes.

Exercise is Medicine http://www.exerciseismedicine.org/ is a program affiliated with the American College of Sports Medicine, which promotes the inclusion of exercise in primary care medicine.

New Mexico has a “Prescription Trail” program http://prescriptiontrails.org/index/index.shtml that outlines specific sites that providers can refer their patients to.

While social determinants are major influences on health, individuals can be introduced to primary and secondary prevention options  through their primary care provider that promote population health through the adage, “one person at a time…”

Dennis Archambault is director of Public Affairs for Authority Health.