Healthy food saves lives – and money

Posted on Thursday, May 14, 2020

Countless studies prove the value of eating a healthy, balanced diet for everyone. But how does nutrition impact the chronically ill in terms of their health and health care bills? With six in ten U.S. adults living with a chronic illness 1, researchers are busy looking for answers.   

A few of the most common – and costly – chronic illnesses in America are:

  • Cardiovascular disease – high blood pressure and high cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Kidney disease

Each of those conditions can be prevented, managed and even treated with the right diet. However, the chronically ill often don’t have ready access to the foods they need due to Social Determinants of Health including food insecurity, transportation issues, and living in “food deserts.”

Finding ways to overcome those issues and support regular access to nutritious food for the chronically ill is critical. Here are summaries of four studies that measured the impact nutrition has on the health and health care bills of chronically ill patients. The results are impressive.

Study 1: Healthy food prescriptions work

A major 2019 study in PLOS Medicine 2 evaluated the economic and health impacts of healthy food prescriptions for Medicare and Medicaid populations, programs which cover 1 in 3 citizens in the U.S. The study tested two approaches to incentivizing nutritious foods for these groups then measured improvements in health and reduction in health care use. Key findings indicate that both approaches were cost effective and would save between $39.7-$100.2 billion in formal lifetime health care costs. The study also showed that providing healthful foods to these populations would significantly reduce deaths from cardiovascular disease.

Study 2: Better diet reduces hospitalizations for heart failure patients

Dietary factors are thought to contribute to hospitalization for patients with heart failure but researchers wanted to learn more. So, a team designed a study to examine how dietary support would effect heart failure patients once they left the hospital. As part of the Gourmet-HF study, 3 Mom’s Meals provided three heart-friendly meals a day for four weeks to patients who had just been discharged from the hospital due to heart failure. Key results from the study show that patients who received the meals experienced:

  • Fewer heart failure hospitalizations and total days hospitalized
  • Improved heart failure symptoms and physical limitations

Study 3: Improved nutrition lowers health care costs for chronically ill patients

Evidence suggests that chronically ill patients who don’t get adequate nutrition can experience long term, negative consequences to both their health and their health care costs. The Metropolitan Area Neighborhood Nutrition Alliance (MANNA), a non-profit serving the greater Philadelphia area, addressed the question with its own research. In the study, 4 the health care expenditures of 65 MANNA clients were compared with a similar group of Medicaid patients who weren’t MANNA beneficiaries. MANNA clients received three medically-tailored meals a day, seven days a week. The results of the study showed that chronically ill and nutritionally at-risk people who benefitted from MANNA’s support with medical nutrition therapy and home delivered meal services had lower health care costs and better outcomes including:

  • 31% lower average monthly health care costs
  • 37% shorter length of inpatient stay
  • 50% fewer hospital admissions

Study 4: Home delivered meals reduce medical costs for nutritionally at-risk people

Can home delivered meals reduce health care spending for people who are nutritionally vulnerable? A study5 was designed to evaluate whether home delivered meals – either medically tailored or not – would reduce the use of some health care services and health care spending for some patients. Study participants who faced food insecurity, chronic medical conditions, or weight change, were selected to receive weekly, medically tailored meals delivered to their doorstep for six months. The results of the study showed that meal delivery programs reduce cost and utilization for some patient populations. Participants experienced:

  • 70% fewer emergency department visits
  • 72% reduction in ambulance use
  • 52% reduction in hospital readmissions
  • 40% lower overall healthcare spend

These studies underscore the fact that healthy food saves lives and saves money. As research on the topic accumulates, it’s clear that nutritious, condition-appropriate meals can help patients – chronically ill, recently discharged and those facing food insecurity -- stay healthier.  That can ultimately lower costs for the health care system, reduce mortality rates, and support higher quality, longer life for patients. Learn more (CLICK HERE) about the condition-appropriate food Mom’s Meals delivers to doorsteps around the country.

1. https://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/about/index.htm

2.https://journals.plos.org/plosmedicine/article?id=10.1371/journal.pmed.1002761&mod=article_inline

3. https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/full/10.1161/CIRCHEARTFAILURE.117.004886

4. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/2150131913490737

5. https://www.healthaffairs.org/doi/abs/10.1377/hlthaff.2017.0999

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