Pilot would measure impact of healthy foods on patients

Originally published on The Herald News.

BOSTON — Healthy eating can help limit the impact of chronic diseases and drive down total health care costs, experts said Tuesday as they called for the Legislature to launch a medical nutrition pilot program.

Several panels of doctors, caseworkers and social service agency leaders pressed the Health Care Financing Committee to back legislation (H 4278) offered by Rep. Denise Garlick that would fund a pilot examining the impact of offering medically tailored meals to patients with a range of conditions.

“Poor nutrition is among the leading risk factors linked to the development of chronic diseases. It also contributes to risk factors such as physical inactivity, overweight and obesity, depression and poor mental health,” said Kim Reckert, community health manager at UMass Memorial Medical Center. “Too many lack access to the nutrition they need to be healthy and to heal.”

Under the bill, the Executive Office of Health and Human Services would launch a pilot offering three categories of support, each including at least 16 weeks of benefits, to qualifying patients.

Participants with congestive heart failure, type 2 diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or renal disease could receive at least 10 meals per week tailored to their medical conditions by a registered dietitian nutritionist.

At least 14 meals per week of medically tailored food — non-prepared grocery items selected by a dietician — would be offered to those with type 2 diabetes or obesity, while subsidies of $20 or more per week for free or discounted “nutrient dense food” would be available to qualifying recipients with pre-diabetes or hypertension or who are overweight.

Reckert noted that one in 10 households in Massachusetts are food insecure, a key factor in determining health outcomes that correlates closely with both chronic disease rates and use of the health care system.

Richard Sheward, director of innovative partnerships at Children’s HealthWatch, said Massachusetts incurred $2.4 billion in avoidable costs due to food insecurity in 2016.

The bill would also create a Food and Health Pilot Research Commission, including public officials, academic experts and someone from one of the organizations behind the Massachusetts Food is Medicine State Plan, to review the pilot’s impacts.