Op-ed: Can Healthy Meal Delivery Reverse Chronic Illness in Seniors? | Civil Eats

Op-ed: Meals Made With Fresh, Whole Foods Could Transform Our Health Care System

Research shows better diets can prevent and even reverse chronic illness, saving billions of dollars and helping countless patients. The Medically Tailored Home-Delivered Meals Demonstration Pilot Act could help.

a volunteer delivers a healthy medically tailored meal to a senior citizen

When I was a kid, my grandmother used to tell me an apple a day keeps the doctor away. I used to ignore her. Now I wish she were alive so I could tell her she was right.

Researchers now tell us that 95 percent of seniors have chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and arthritis. They also tell us that eating more fresh fruits and vegetables and whole foods can help improve health outcomes and even prevent or reverse illness.

Unfortunately, in our country, the science is light-years ahead of the public policy on this issue. Instead of acknowledging the link between poor nutrition and chronic illness, federal programs like Medicare often incentivize costly treatments and expensive prescription drugs.

“Two thousand years ago, the great philosopher Hippocrates wrote: “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”

But what if things were different? What if our health care system recognized the healing power of food and let federal programs like Medicare treat and prevent diet-related diseases through healthy eating?

A new bipartisan bill in Congress that I’ve introduced alongside Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan) in the Senate aims to do just that.

By giving caregivers more tools to address diet-related disease and educate people about the value of nutritious food, our legislation aims to transform America’s sick care system into a health care system—improving outcomes, treating chronic disease, and saving lives in the process.

Our bill—officially called the Medically Tailored Home-Delivered Meals Demonstration Pilot Act—relies on a simple idea: Caregivers should be able to provide nutritious, dietitian-approved meals directly to the homes of seniors with chronic health conditions. It’s that simple.

Incredible donor-funded organizations—such as Community Servings in Massachusetts and God’s Love We Deliver in New York City—have spent years providing delicious meals like potato kale soup, coconut curry chicken, and apple teacake—all specifically tailored by a dietitian to help address health concerns. Meals for more complex cases, such as for patients with end-stage renal disease, may require multiple modifications. Our bill establishes a federal framework that could help scale up this work to improve health outcomes for more people with chronic conditions from coast to coast.

If our pilot is successful, as I suspect it will be, it may lead to larger, more permanent changes. No longer will chronically ill seniors have to wonder where their next healthy meal is coming from. They won’t have to go without nutritious food because they can’t afford it or aren’t well enough to prepare it.

We’ll bring the news to you.

Get the weekly Civil Eats newsletter, delivered to your inbox.

But if the moral arguments aren’t convincing you, let’s talk about the bottom line.

For decades, the health care industry has been driven by profits—not prevention. Big Pharma and Fortune 500 insurance CEOs spend their time ripping us off and cashing in on our treatment instead of working to stop us from getting sick in the first place. Even though it has been clear for decades that healthy eating keeps people out of the hospital and gets them off expensive prescription drugs, we’ve been trapped in an endless cycle of health care spending.

Expanding access to medically tailored meals could help us finally break out of this never-ending cycle—saving nearly $13.6 billion in health care costs each year and improving health outcomes by preventing 1.6 million hospitalizations a year, according to a study from Tufts University’s Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy. Our new bill would not only help improve lives, but it would save a boatload of taxpayer money, too.

There’s a growing bipartisan consensus in Congress that says we must do a better job of addressing the link between food and medicine. And thanks to the hard work of so many anti-hunger champions around the country, President Joe Biden hosted the second-ever White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health in September 2022. The result was a strategy to end hunger and reduce diet-related diseases by 2030. Medically tailored, home-delivered meals for seniors would help us get there.

The idea behind our bill is nothing new. Two thousand years ago, the great philosopher Hippocrates wrote: “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”

Thank you for being a loyal reader.

We rely on you. Become a member today to read unlimited stories.

We may have lost our way, but we can get back on track. As a country, we can address the underlying causes of diet-related disease and chronic illness—not just the symptoms.

We ought to listen to Hippocrates. We ought to listen to the scientists. And we ought to listen to our grandmothers. Food can change lives. It can also save lives. And if Congress passes the Medically Tailored Home-Delivered Meals Demonstration Pilot Act, food can heal our country and help fix our broken health care system.

James P. McGovern (D-MA) was elected to the House of Representatives in 1996. He is Chairman of the Committee on Rules. He is also the founder and co-chair of the House Hunger Caucus and sits on the House Subcommittee on Nutrition, where he advocates tirelessly for funding programs that help working families, children, and the elderly put food on the table when times are tough. Read more >

Like the story?
Join the conversation.

  1. Kudos to Rep. McGovern for leading the way in the Food is Medicine movement and speaking so passionately about the impact of medically tailored meals in our communities.
  2. Augie
    why should seniors have to wait untl they are in poor health to get healthy meals? many can't afford to eat healthy even if they don't have a caregiver.

More from

Commentary

Featured

Popular

Tracking Tire Plastics—and Chemicals—From Road to Plate

Can New York City Treat Its Food Scraps As More Than Trash?

Garbage bags full of waste, including compostable waste, pile up on the streets of new york city.

Senator Cory Booker Says FDA Proposal Could Worsen Antibiotic Resistance

A farmworker feeds cows in a barn.

Are Companies Using Carbon Markets to Sell More Pesticides?

a tractor sprays pesticides on a field while hazard symbols fade into the distance. (Civil Eats illustration)