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The Power of Food as Medicine: What Health Care is Doing and What is Working

June 12, 2023

The National Institute on Aging notes nearly 85 percent of adult Americans have at least one chronic disease that not only affects their quality of life, but according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is also responsible for 90 percent of the nation’s annual health care costs. One of the vital solutions that can help improve lives and the cost of health care is the concept of food as medicine.

“This is not a new concept as people have looked at food as medicine for centuries,” said Catherine Macpherson, MS, RDN, senior vice president of healthcare strategy and chief nutrition officer for Mom’s Meals®. “The topic is gaining popularity in health care as there are a growing number of rigorous studies showing the both the health benefits of food as medicine, as well as the cost savings of providing medically tailored meals to vulnerable individuals, including people discharging from a hospital stay or struggling to manage a chronic condition like diabetes, heart failure or kidney disease.”

Better nutrition helps manage chronic disease and cost
Programs that focus on nutrition and address unmet social needs, like access to healthy food, can significantly affect health outcomes for those with chronic diseases and others, ultimately improving health and reducing the economic burden of health care. Along with regular provider visits, monitoring and medication adherence, medically tailored meals are an important part of the plan of care for people with chronic conditions, or those who may be pregnant, disabled or struggling with activities of daily living, like shopping or cooking. Medically tailored meal programs have proven to help reduce health care costs through better management of chronic conditions, while also reducing hospitalizations, readmissions and institutionalization.

“Research from Tufts University estimated that in addition to a net cost savings of $13.6 billion for payers, a national expansion of medically tailored meals for patients with diet-sensitive conditions and activity limitations could help avert 1.6 million hospitalizations annually,” said Macpherson. “At Mom’s Meals, we have also conducted numerous pilot programs with payors and have case studies that support this research.”

A telling case study
Launched in June 2021, a pilot initiative was jointly run by Inland Empire Health Plan in California and Mom’s Meals. More than 28,000 medically tailored meals were provided to dually eligible (Medicare-Medicaid) members from Riverside and San Bernardino counties in California for a period of six months. A total of 93 people, each with congestive heart failure and a minimum of two hospital stays within the previous year, took part. The program, which offered participants fully prepared lower-sodium meals, fresh produce and dry goods, nutrition education, and home visits, saw a 50 percent reduction in emergency department visits and hospital stays and a 25 percent decrease in medical costs.

Additional outcomes included:


Working together to take action
“We all need to work together to build awareness that diet-related diseases and a lack of access to healthy foods are inextricably linked and are rising, but this is preventable,” said Macpherson. “Health care reimbursement has traditionally covered medical care and medications, not medically tailored meals or fresh produce. That is changing, however, as Government leaders and payers, private managed care organizations and even employers look to solve the rising rates and costs of chronic diseases and address the social determinants of health.”

To learn even more on how health plans, government entities, public and private organizations, and individuals can do to better integrate the food as medicine concept into services and benefits for better outcomes and lower health care costs of all read Mom’s Meals white paper The Power of Food as Medicine: What Health Care is Doing and What is Working.

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About Mom’s Meals
Mom’s Meals provides fully prepared, refrigerated, home-delivered meals through Medicaid or Medicare Advantage health plan benefits or for direct purchase. Mom’s Meals delivers nationwide and offers many medically tailored options for different health conditions. Its long-term care, chronic care and post-discharge care programs allow clients to lead healthier lives while remaining independent at home. For more information, visit