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New Research Highlights the Promise of Food is Medicine

Food insecurity and malnutrition are major drivers for poor health outcomes, population disparities and soaring health care spending. Roughly one out of every ten households in Massachusetts struggle with food insecurity, causing the state a staggering $1.9 billion in avoidable health care costs each year. Nutrition is increasingly recognized as a key social determinant of health because poor diet and food insecurity are connected to chronic health problems and frequent use of costly medical services.

A growing body of research shows that connecting medically complex individuals to Food is Medicine interventions, such as medically tailored meals (MTMs), is an effective and low-cost strategy to improve health outcomes, decrease expenditure of health care services, and enhance quality of life for these individuals.

Leading Food is Medicine researcher, Dr. Seth A. Berkowitz, in collaboration with Community Servings and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, has released a new study that examined the association between participation in a medically tailored meals program and health care utilization and costs. This rigorous two-year cohort study, supported by Robert Wood Johnson’s Evidence for Action Program, is the largest study to date, with 499 MTM recipients, matched to 521 nonrecipients for a total of 1020 study participants.

Key Findings:

  • Participation in the medically tailored meals intervention was associated with significantly fewer inpatient admissions and fewer skilled nursing facility admissions.
  • The study model estimated that, had everyone in the matched cohort received MTMs, average individual monthly health care costs would have been $3,838 vs. $4,591, a difference of $753.
  • This difference translates to a net reduction of approximately 16% in average monthly health care costs.

The findings from this study align with Community Servings’ 2018 study on dually eligible Medicaid and Medicare beneficiaries, which also found a 16 percent net reduction in health care costs for participants who received medically tailored meals. The new study builds upon this earlier research, which was restricted to Medicare-Medicaid dual eligibles, by highlighting the potential benefits of medically tailored meals for a broader segment of the population, including participants in Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurance.

The ability to address nutritional needs in the context of health care is becoming increasingly important for improving population health, particularly for the nation’s most vulnerable groups. Food is Medicine interventions play an important role in managing and even preventing many of the chronic diseases that drive health care costs across the nation. Medically tailored meal programs represent promising interventions and deserve further study as we seek improve both health and the value of health care in the U.S.

CHLPI will continue to monitor developments on Food is Medicine research. Please check back with us regularly for news and updates!