Health Team

Study: Delivering meals tailored to meet medical needs cuts health costs

Posted April 20, 2018 7:13 p.m. EDT

— Meals delivered to a patient's hospital room usually match their medical needs, but when they return home, circumstances often mean the healthy diet ends.

A recent study looked at a program in Boston that helps keep healthy meals on the table. In the "Community Servings" program, registered dietitians direct a medically tailored meal delivery service for people who cannot get out of their homes.

"Not only are the nutritious meals delivered this time once a week, but they are also tailored specifically to the medical conditions someone has," said Dr. Seth Berkowitz, an assistant professor at the UNC School of Medicine who was lead author of the study while working at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School.

The study, which appears in the April issue of Health Affairs, focused on meal recipients with critical or chronic illness and who face "food insecurity" issues.

"They couldn't afford to purchase meals themselves. If they're on a very complicated diet, that might be difficult to prepare at home if, due to their illness, they weren't able to cook for themselves," Berkowitz said.

The results showed the program achieved a 16 percent reduction in health care costs, largely by reducing hospitalizations.

Berkowitz said meal recipients were highly motivated to stick to the meal plan, and some even learned how to prepare similar meals for themselves on days without the delivery program.

Similar programs now also exist in New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco and other cities, and Berkowitz said he believes it could be effective in North Carolina.

"We certainly have a lot of people who meet this same criteria as the people who are in the study, so there's a potential for benefit," he said.