Good nutrition is the foundation for good health. But when people lack consistent access to nutritious food or maintain an unhealthy diet, it can create a domino effect of negative consequences that extends to many facets of a person’s life – clinical, financial, and even social.
People who maintain a healthy lifestyle and eat nutritious food tend to have fewer doctor visits and hospital stays which lowers their overall health care costs. Plus, healthier people can engage in life more fully.
The converse is also true. Poor nutrition is often a precursor to health problems including chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease. People with chronic illness require more health care, which drives up their medical costs in the form of higher deductibles, co-pays, and prescription costs. Complicating matters, unhealthy people tend to miss out on the things that matter to them, such as family events and other activities.
A major barrier to better nutrition for millions of Americans is lack of access to healthy food. A 2017 U.S. Department of Agriculture study estimates that 40 million Americans, including 12 million children, were food insecure, or lacked steady access to affordable, nutritious food. Food insecurity can be a result of several issues including income, employment, disability, and race/ethnicity.
One’s zip code is also a factor. Many urban and low-income neighborhoods are “food deserts” without full-service grocery stores. Residents of food deserts are often limited to shopping at convenience stores, which tend to have higher prices and lower quality foods.
A person’s age also plays a part in food insecurity. According to a Feeding America study, senior citizens are the fastest growing food-insecure population in the country and they face specific challenges getting the nutrition they need. Seniors living on fixed or limited incomes often skip meals or eat lower quality, less expensive foods to balance the costs of medical care and housing. Mobility is an issue too, because many seniors can’t easily shop for or prepare the nutritious foods they need.
Helping vulnerable populations
Fortunately, more services and programs are addressing food insecurity and improving nutrition for vulnerable populations.
- Health care organizations are launching food pharmacies where clinicians write “prescriptions” for low-cost or free nutritious food for patients.
- Mobile growers’ markets are springing up in low-income neighborhoods around the nation improving access to fresh, locally sourced produce for residents of food deserts.
- Community organizations and health plans are providing condition-appropriate home delivered meals to provide nutritional support for recently discharged or chronically ill patients.
Several studies have shown that providing condition-appropriate food to nutritionally vulnerable patients via companies such as Mom’s Meals® reduces overall medical costs. A recent study of dual eligible Medicaid and Medicare patients published in Health Affairs showed that patients who receive medically tailored meals had fewer inpatient admissions and lower medical spending than those receiving non-tailored food delivery. Get more information about Mom’s Meals.