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To help stop health and food inequities, start with better nutrition

June 29, 2023

As National Fruit and Veggie Month wraps up, I want to put a spotlight on improving access to nutritious food for everyone. Even though America is seen as a land of plenty, that’s not the case for the more than 34 million Americans who lack regular access to nutritious food — many of whom are minorities. 

Compounding the problem: the same minority populations that face food insecurity tend to experience health inequities, meaning they don’t have equal access to health care coverage and services and, therefore, experience worse health outcomes.

While the statistics below are from separate studies, you can see how the problems are linked; inequities in access to nutritious food and health care can lead to worse outcomes for minorities: 

  • Food insecurity: Black and Latino people experience food insecurity at a rate over 10 times higher than that of white, non-Hispanic individuals. 
  • Health inequities: A 2019 study, shows the uninsured rate of non-Hispanic Black Americans increased to 10.1 percent compared to 6.3 percent of non-Hispanic White Americans.
  • Outcomes: The fatality rate for a range of diseases including heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer’s is generally higher for Black and Hispanic Americans than it is for whites. 

Nutrition: the problem and the answer

Poor nutrition is the root cause of many of our nation’s most persistent — and costly — health problems. In fact, it’s the leading cause of illness in the United States and is linked with an increase in chronic conditions including high blood pressure, cancer and heart disease. 

Minorities also experience the negative outcomes of poor nutrition at disproportionate rates. One study shows that Black, Hispanic and Native American people are up to twice as likely to have a major chronic disease compared to white people. 

Improving access to better nutrition for everyone is one clear answer to our nation’s struggle with chronic illness. It’s often called “food as medicine” and it’s a priority set at the highest levels of government. At the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health last fall, the Biden administration committed to ending hunger by 2030 and reducing the burden of diet-related disease that disproportionately impacts people who are food insecure.

Government agencies, private health insurance companies and community groups are all focusing on how to use food as medicine to reduce food insecurity and improve health equity. The approaches vary from offering new health plan benefits to creating community programs and emphasizing better education. 

Better nutrition at the doorstep
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has a new framework for improving health equity including addressing inequities in policies and closing gaps within CMS programs. Medically tailored, home-delivered meals are one proven way to close those health equity gaps and increase access to quality nutrition especially for underserved and low-income people with chronic conditions. 

Health insurance companies, some working in collaboration with CMS programs, are leading the way with pilot programs that demonstrate the benefits of home-delivered meals. 

  • University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) Health enrolled a cohort of members who were food insecure and had at least one chronic health condition in a pilot program to receive a delivery of three meals a day for 13 weeks from Mom’s Meals®. The pilot showed promising results with a 31 percent lower emergency department usage and 36 percent decrease in median total cost of care versus a comparison group (17 percent decrease and 18 percent decrease respectively). 
  • In one study, Medicare Advantage members in a community-based transition program that offered home-delivered meals had a 38 percent improvement in 30-day readmissions compared to those without any post-discharge support. 
  • A pilot program in California with Inland Empire Health Plan and Mom’s Meals provided medically tailored meals to dually eligible (Medicare-Medicaid) members with congestive heart failure and at least two hospital stays in the previous year. The program saw a 50 percent reduction in hospitalizations and emergency department visits per member per year. 

There is so much great work happening in the food as medicine space. Get more insight on food as medicine including additional case study details, how to advocate for services and ways integrate a home-delivered meals benefit in our free white paper from Mom’s Meals Food as Medicine: What Health Care is Doing and What is Working.