Podcast: Nutrition key to better and cheaper healthcare

Every week, Harm Edens of BNR radio interviews experts on why a bank is aiming to build a better world. Here, he speaks to Michel van Schaik, Healthcare Director at Rabobank, and Irene Mommers of BeBright.

Listen to the podcast now (24 minutes - in Dutch) or read on for our synopsis in English.

Diagnosing national health issues

The Dutch healthcare system scores well in world rankings. However, it faces unsustainable expenses thanks to chronic, preventable diseases like obesity and type 2 diabetes. That’s why Rabobank is working with strategy and innovation agency BeBright on Diagnose, (‘diagnosis’ in Dutch). The initiative fosters disease prevention in the Netherlands and beyond through better nutrition, emphasizing innovative solutions.

“Nutrition deserves more attention,” says Michel van Schaik, Healthcare Director at Rabobank. He is the driving force behind Diagnose along with Irene Mommers of BeBright. “Rabobank finances many healthcare companies and institutions,” he explains. “We can see it’s increasingly difficult for them to provide the required healthcare services within budget. Meanwhile, we all know food and health are closely related, but nutrition is still low on healthcare providers’ agendas.”

Costs spinning out of control

Irene Mommers agrees: “Food is one of the building blocks of our bodies. We need to take it more seriously, no matter how busy we are. The situation is not helped by the fact that doctors do little to promote healthy eating habits. And while schools introduce children to healthy eating habits by preparing and eating meals together, there’s a lot more they could do.”

“For decades now, we’ve been getting fatter and older, and healthcare costs are soaring. Yet the government has no plan to address this fundamental problem,” Van Schaik observes. “Average households spend a quarter of their gross income on healthcare now. By 2040 it will eat up half their income. And the fact is that the nearly 100 billion euros we currently spend on healthcare – a quarter of public spending – isn’t delivering the value it could. Instead, most of it goes to the treatment of chronic illnesses caused by unhealthy lifestyles.”

“We need to shift from cure to prevention”

- Michel van Schaik, Healthcare Director at Rabobank

Prevention through education

“A shift is needed from making sick people better to preventing ill health,” Van Schaik believes. “With more emphasis on educating people, preferably at an early age, about staying healthy. And Rabobank has a role to play. We finance Dutch healthcare institutions, which means we can hold a mirror up to them. But we can’t create this shift on our own. That’s why we initiated Diagnosis. It’s a world first: a coalition of private and public players including local and regional governments, several knowledge institutions and a leading health insurer. It aims to help solve the challenges in the Dutch healthcare system.”

Bank breaking the mold

“The Netherlands is a global frontrunner on food-related issues while our healthcare system scores well in global rankings. The coalition wants to link these two factors, in order to deliver new, scalable concepts to healthcare and nutrition, not with government subsidies, but based on viable business models.”

“We can speed up health innovations’ time to market”

- Irene Mommers, consultant at BeBright

“We can do this by encouraging businesses to innovate,” Mommers adds. “In our accelerator program, we select innovations with a high social and commercial potential. We then provide knowledge, skills and capital to speed up the time to market. In three years, we aim to make them independent of subsidies.

“One example is Diverzio, a program that helps healthcare institutions improve patients’ meal quality, minimizing waste and emphasizing the use local products. The accelerator program is helping Diverzio to install a revenue model and upscale their operations to serve hundreds of healthcare institutions.”

Exporting health

“Rabobank is engaging institutions in our client portfolio to help them recognize that the value they provide goes beyond medical treatment,” Van Schaik explains. “Once we’ve helped companies like Diverzio become independent of subsidies, we can start providing them with regular banking solutions. The company can then grow and have much more impact on society locally and internationally.

“Solutions developed for the Netherlands can be exported to markets like the US and China, where the number of people suffering from chronic illnesses such as obesity and diabetes is growing to astronomical proportions.

“Social impact and commercial success are not mutually exclusive. We have a long tradition in the Netherlands of working together for the common good, sharing knowledge and skills on the basis of mutual trust. It’s what enabled us to reclaim land and keep it safe from the sea. In this case, our cooperation is ultimately going to generate healthy business initiatives that will benefit society and our economy at the same time. So we’ve come full circle.”

Rabobank’s ‘Banking for Food’ podcasts are available in Dutch via various podcast apps for iPhone and Android, SoundCloud and Stitcher.