With the aging of the Baby Boomer generation, a growing proportion of the population is reaching retirement age. And although many seniors are living longer, the incidence of chronic illness is also on the rise, and so are health care costs. In an effort to treat patients more holistically and focus on prevention and overall well-being, several health care providers across the United States and Canada have initiated tailored meal programs as part of treatment for chronic conditions.
By starting with diet, many patients with serious health problems like diabetes, heart failure or cancer experience a significant improvement of symptoms and are less likely to visit the emergency room or require hospital stays. According to a recent New York Times report, Project Angel Food is one of 6 non-profit organizations that deliver meals to patients and teach them how to shop and cook dishes tailored for their health condition as part of a pilot program in California. A client with heart failure, for example, might receive meals that are low in sodium and saturated fats while focusing on whole grains, fresh vegetables and lean protein.
Education about nutrition and portion size along with support from a registered dietician can not only lower health care costs, but clients learn how to prepare healthy meals and make good choices when eating out. The results of pilot projects have been encouraging. According to 2017 data, a third of California Medicaid patients with congestive heart failure who are hospitalized are readmitted within a month. But of the 404 clients enrolled in the tailored meal pilot study, only 6.2 percent were hospitalized within a month following discharge.
The finding of related studies demonstrate similar results; dietary changes not only reduced health care costs, but patients also report experiencing a better quality of life. Elderly patients receiving tailored meals for chronic health conditions who are not able to shop and cook for themselves could potentially live independently longer, in better health and with less social isolation.
Learn more about medically tailored meals by following this link to the California Food is Medicine Coalition website.