Our Research Focus

The American Heart Association’s Health Care by Food™ initiative aims to purposefully invest resources to address critical questions that face the field and lay the groundwork for definitive evidence to influence coverage decisions on food is medicine interventions by public and private payors. The initiative’s research is guided by expert volunteers.

Existing Evidence Graphic
Existing Evidence
Gaps in Evidence to Address Graphic
Gaps in Evidence to Address

Common Measures

Health Care by Food’s Health Equity and Common Measures Task Force has designed a set of common measures to facilitate the comparison of data among our 20 funded pilot studies for combined evaluation of results from different studies. Shared metrics are vital for pooling data across studies and producing more generalizable insights to allow for more comparability between studies.

While these common measures were originally developed for the Association’s funded studies, we welcome their use in the broader food is medicine research community as adopting common measures across initiatives will lead to more consistent, comparable and actionable data. We also welcome feedback and conversation on these measures in the hope they may be useful for the field.

Health Care by Food will hold a webinar to discuss common measures on July 18th from 4:00 – 5:00 pm ET. Register for the webinar via Zoom.

Funded Projects

The initiative’s research efforts were announced in January 2024, with funds awarded to foundational research projects across the country led by experts in the food and nutrition, behavioral science, epidemiology and cardiovascular research fields. 

View the Research Projects

Focal points for the research we expect to eventually be conducted under the initiative include:

  • Effectiveness of food is medicine interventions: for example, the ability to positively influence health outcomes
  • Comparative effectiveness: tests of the relative effectiveness of interventions of different designs, duration, dose versus one another
  • Delineation of what type of programs work for which patients
  • Cost effectiveness of food is medicine interventions
  • Resolution of barriers to successful implementation of food is medicine programs

The initiative’s research agenda will proceed in stages:

A research planning group convened by the AHA reviewed the literature to identify gaps and will be supporting secondary analyses of existing data and small trials that lay the groundwork for the initiative.
The low rates of engagement, adherence and behavior change identified in much of the literature are driving an initial focus on using rapid-cycle short-term studies to test ways of identifying those gaps before moving to tests of longer-term behavior change and clinical outcomes.
Funded projects will be supported using a Cooperative Studies Model, where task forces are in place to offer teams support in human-centered design, behavioral science, implementation science, community engagement, statistics and cost-effectiveness evaluations.
Human centered design will be used to incorporate the lived experience of patients and practitioners in developing and testing ways of increasing program enrollment and engagement rates across diverse populations.
The next phase of studies will be intermediate-length studies, building on the initial pilots, that focus on increasing short-term and longer-term behavior change. By carefully testing likely components of longer-term interventions, these will help “de-risk” subsequent larger-scale trials.
Women working

A Food Is Medicine Roadmap

An American Heart Association Presidential Advisory on Food Is Medicine approaches, published in September 2023, serves as a roadmap for the research, advocacy, quality measurement, professional education and public awareness that will lead to widespread adoption and coverage of food is medicine interventions that improve health and are cost-effective. The advisory establishes that:

  • Healthy, nutritious food may be a useful strategy in the health care setting to treat and prevent acute or chronic diseases.
  • Food is medicine has the potential to improve health outcomes for millions of patients.
  • A coordinated research approach is needed to more systematically and rigorously define how well food is medicine interventions prevent and treat disease compared to standard medical care.
  • Research must be complemented by efforts in advocacy, quality improvement and education to fully incorporate food is medicine into the health care system.
Hands creating wreath salads

Request for Proposals

The Health Care by Food initiative’s first Request for Proposals focused on feasibility and implementation science to achieve high rates of enrollment and engagement in food is medicine programs using input from the lived experiences of patient participants and practitioners to guide program design. Our focus is on testing ways to achieve significant short-term changes in healthy eating behavior since that is a pre-requisite for achieving longer-term behavior change.

View the Request for Proposals (Closed November 6th, 2023)
View all AHA Funding Opportunities