“Food as medicine” meets ready meals: NIH grants US$3m for tailored nutrition for diabetes
24 Sep 2020 --- The US National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded a US$2.9 million grant for “food as medicine” research that will focus on using medically tailored meal delivery as an effective health care intervention for diabetes.
The research is a partnership of Community Servings, Massachusetts General Hospital and the University of North Carolina School of Medicine.
“This study takes our research efforts to another level and builds on previous analyses of claims. Our data found positive patient outcomes and lower health care costs associated with our meals, to launch an advanced clinical test involving individuals living with diabetes and lacking food resources,” notes David Waters, CEO of Community Servings.
The five-year Research Project Grant (R01) will support a randomized clinical trial involving 200 individuals with Type 2 diabetes and food insecurity in Massachusetts, US.
The researchers say that over 30 million US consumers have diabetes, 20 percent of whom have insufficient access to enough food to sustain an active, healthy life. Food insecurity is associated with poor diabetes control, increased medical complications and higher costs of care.
Medically tailored meals
Medically tailored meal programs, such as the Community Servings kitchen operation based in Boston and similar nonprofit organizations in other states, deliver scratch-made meals. These are tailored by a registered dietitian nutritionist to meet the specific medical needs of individuals with chronic and critical illnesses.
The meals can be designed for up to 15 medical diets and customized with up to three different combinations to address co-morbid conditions.
“This clinical trial will incorporate an innovative lifestyle change component into the medically tailored meal delivery program that will teach people not only what to eat but how to eat in a way that is sustainable,” says Linda Delahanty, director of nutrition and behavioral research in the Diabetes Research Center at Mass General.
“We will teach patients key nutrition, activity and behavioral skills needed to improve their diabetes self-management,” Delahanty adds.
The need for a full-scale clinical trial
Dr. Seth Berkowitz, assistant professor at the UNC School of Medicine, is the principal investigator for the research team. He previously led a pilot randomized clinical trial that found medically tailored meal delivery was successful in improving diet quality and control of the disease among recipients with diabetes and food insecurity.
“While medically tailored meal delivery programs are gaining increased public attention and acceptance by health care providers, there has yet to be a full-scale clinical trial to test its effects on diabetes outcomes when compared to other food insecurity interventions,” Berkowitz explains.
“We will be looking for improvements in hemoglobin A1c levels as well as patient-reported outcomes such as hypoglycemia, diabetes distress and quality of life,” he affirms.
In the clinical trial, a diverse group of adults will be enrolled and randomly assigned either to Community Servings’ medically tailored meal delivery program or to their usual diabetes care plus a monthly healthy food subsidy. Outcomes will be assessed at six and 12 months, and the research project will continue for five years.
“Not only do we feed the sick, but we are also working every day to change the way America feeds the sick,” details Jean Terranova, director of food and health policy at Community Servings.
“While we already believe that food can be powerful medicine, this rigorous public health research program will significantly enhance our understanding of medically tailored meals as an important tool in treating diabetes while addressing food insecurity,” Terranova concludes.
Ready meals address health demands
The ready meals industry segment is witnessing a boom in demand for nutritious options that also cater to specific health needs.
According to Innova Market Insights, value and volume growth for meal kits averaged at 3.5 percent and 3.7 percent, respectively, over the last five years.
Ready meals have also seen a resurgence as COVID-19 lockdowns reduce consumers’ mobility and bring health and wellness into sharpened focus. Weight loss, senior nutrition and plant-based are also proliferating themes in these convenient options.
NutritionInsight previously examined how one can maintain a healthy diet during confinement, as well as the healthy delivery options.
In the same space, personalized supplement company Baze partnered with ready meal players to broaden its service. Baze customers will now receive food and meal recommendations that target specific nutrient deficiencies.
Nevera Llena, Spanish for “Full Fridge,” is another home delivery service that brings 14 custom-prepared, pre-cooked meals straight to consumers’ doorstep. Each meal tray is color-coded and labeled with specific nutritional information.
As interest in personalized nutrition reaches a fever pitch, ready meal companies are set to offer more customizable choices. Additionally, positionings, including high-protein and low-sugar, are also proliferating, with key movers in the space explaining how ready meals are fighting to stay in the nutritional game.
By Kristiana Lalou
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