Food-as-medicine effort at UK gets a boost from new endowment

By Christopher Carney
University of Kentucky

One of the first two Gatton Foundation endowed professors at the University of Kentucky is Alison Gustafson, who directs the Food as Health Alliance. The endowment, from a $100 million gift by the late Bill Gatton, will provide funds to developing and expanding food-as-medicine programs across the state.

The money will help build capacity for health-care providers to get key services for diet-sensitive patients who are at risk of food insecurity. Gustafson is also developing and expanding community partnerships, offering approved food-as-medicine programs to those who qualify, and building a referral and network hub that will give patients a connection to services regardless of location.

“Our team will be conducting expansion efforts for screening and referral, capacity building among community groups, outreach, UK Cooperative Extension training and research projects to better serve Kentuckians experiencing food insecurity,” Gustafson said.

Gustafson is a professor in the Department of Dietetics and Human Nutrition in the Martin-Gatton College of Agriculture, Food and Environment and the College of Nursing. Under terms of the gift from the Bill Gatton Foundation, distinguished faculty get resources to continue meaningful research, extension and instructional programs related to advancing UK’s land-grant mission.

The Food as Health Alliance was launched at UK in 2023 to boost health and well-being in the state through the combined application of agricultural, medical, and nutritional resources. Gustafson works to bring together clinical and community research to address the dual challenges of food insecurity and diet-related chronic diseases that many Kentuckians face.

Gustafson earned a doctoral degree in nutrition epidemiology from the University of North Carolina and a master’s degree in public health from Boston University. As a master’s student, she spent a year in Zimbabwe working with AIDS orphans. She has worked in local and state health departments, focusing on community health for disadvantaged populations.

The other Gatton endowed chair, Tiffany Messer, will get support for student training and success, water-quality needs assessments, and low-cost water-quality treatment options. She is an associate professor of biosystems and agricultural engineering in the college.

Kentucky Health News is an independent news service of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, based in the School of Journalism and Media at the University of Kentucky, with support from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.

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