Research: Meal Delivery Services Associated with Lower Healthcare Costs

Local nonprofit Community Servings is highlighted in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.   

meal delivery services

Photo via Getty Images/bhofack2

We’re all familiar with the saying “food is medicine” but how often do we actually take it to heart? It’s often times hard to see the correlation our every day habits have on our overall health and wellbeing. But in a new study recently published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, researchers reveal how eating nutritious food from healthy meal delivery services, medically tailored for populations dealing with chronic illnesses, improves health outcomes and decreases medical costs. And the meal delivery service they looked at was local nonprofit Community Servings.

Led by Dr. Seth Berkowitz at the University of North Carolina, in collaboration with researchers at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and the Mongan Institute, the study linked data from the 2011-2015 Massachusetts All Payer Claims Database with the meal delivery records of Community Servings.

Community Servings, located in Jamaica Plain, provides medically tailored meals from registered dietitians to individuals living with critical and chronic illnesses. They offer different meal plans to clients who are referred by a medical professional, and can customize the meals based on illness and medication regiments. Clients receive 10 meals to their home weekly.

The study examined a total of 1,020 adults from the database where about half qualified for medically tailored meals and half did not. Then, matching the recipients of the meals with non recipients based on demographic, clinical, and neighborhood characteristics they compared medical outcomes of each group. Their findings showed that those receiving Community Servings meals reduced healthcare costs by 16.4 percent and were associated with fewer hospital and nursing home admissions.

“The evidence that medically tailored meal delivery programs may be a useful intervention for vulnerable individuals continues to grow,” Berkowitz said in a release. “The next step will be to test these interventions in randomized trials to help better understand in what situations medically tailored meal delivery programs should be used.” Berkowitz also led a 2018 study published in Health Affairs which also looked at the healthcare cost savings associated with utilizing meal delivery services.

And health care policies are making it easier for those who need these type of interventions to access them. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts recently started providing medically tailored meals to Medicare Advantage members and in January 2020 MassHealth Accountable Care Organizations will receive funds to reimburse those who use nutrition support services.

So, it’s like they’ve always said: An apple a day keeps the doctor away—or something like that. And these findings don’t just apply to those who are already dealing with health issues. If we want to stay out of the sick bed we better start looking at what goes on our plate and into our mouths. It’s as simple as that.