Nourishing Health Care with Medically Tailored Meals

May 31, 2019 • 2 min read

Adopting nutrition-focused medical interventions into health care could significantly reduce the monetary burden of chronic conditions in the United States. In a recent commentary from JAMA Internal Medicine, researchers review the potential for medically tailored meals (MTMs) and other nutrition interventions to improve health and decrease medical costs for individuals and for the nation as a whole.

Experts estimate $1.72 trillion per year spent on health costs related to diabetes, heart disease, and obesity-related conditions like cancer – chronic conditions often linked to poor diet. But before nutrition can be successfully integrated into health care systems as acknowledgment of its effect on health, research must validate the effect of specific nutritional interventions on health and health care spending.

Clinical Nutrition and Whole Food Solutions Link to Medically Tailored Meals

Providing condition-specific nutrition solutions and therapies is often achieved using a medically tailored meal (MTM) format as a ready-to-eat meal. Personalized nutrition solutions can be packaged in this form according to a patient’s particular health needs to deliver specific nutritional support. In a recent intervention, to be eligible to receive MTMs patients had to have a complex medical condition (e.g. cancer, diabetes, congestive heart failure) as well as “certified substantial social barriers to healthy eating” (e.g. poverty, food insecurity).

Researchers analyzed the success of the intervention utilizing MTMs, which included a near two-year follow-up. Compared to individuals with a similar patient profile who did not receive MTMs, patients who did receive MTMs experienced:

  • 49% fewer inpatient admissions
  • 72% fewer skilled nursing facility admissions
  • An average 753$ per person per month net savings in total health care costs

How can similar intervention programs be successful?

  • Accessibility: Nutrition as a type of health care intervention needs to be integrated into large private and public insurance programs (Read more about Geisinger Health and the Fresh Food Pharmacy)
  • Policy changes: The 2018 Farm Bill saw an expanded fruit and vegetable incentive program in the Supplementation Nutrition Assistance program and a $25 million Produce Prescription Program
  • Standardized assessments: Health professionals can screen patients for inclusion in the right program
  • Nutrition education: Health professionals need more nutrition-based curriculum from the very beginning of their careers

In addition to MTMs, other intervention programs like Produce Prescriptions (sponsored by Wholesome Wave) enable health care professionals to write “prescriptions” for fruits and vegetables to patients – encouraging increased consumption of healthy foods with coupons and other financial incentives.

Produce Prescriptions, MTMs, and other nutrition-based intervention programs mark the beginning of successful nutrition integration into the world of mainstream health care. The more that research can prove that these programs improve health and save costs, the closer we are to validating nutrition as a key component of health.

Read the full commentary from JAMA Internal Medicine.

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