Projects > Sustainability and Equity in the Massachusetts Food System: A Progress Report

Community Servings

Improving health outcomes through healthy eating

For many people, food is more than a meal—it can be the difference between wellness and illness. To address the needs of the thousands of people for whom access to nutritious food affects their chronic health conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, certain cancers, and HIV, Community Servings is partnering with the Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation at Harvard Law School to create a Massachusetts Food is Medicine State Plan.

Food is Medicine describes the provision of nutritious food tailored to meet such chronic medical needs. Community Servings has been preparing and delivering nutritious meals to people who are ill since 1990. Since 2014, the organization has been contracted to provide medically tailored meals to some patients who are eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid. The Massachusetts Food is Medicine State Plan builds on this work.

The project will begin by assessing Food is Medicine resources currently available in the state. Such resources can include medically tailored meals for people suffering from certain health conditions; fruit and vegetable prescriptions that patients can receive from their doctors; and prescriptions for a CSA or box of local produce.

This project will also include a comprehensive survey of healthcare professionals and insurers to learn if and how they screen for hunger among their patients, and what resources or information they provide to those suffering from food insecurity. There will also be regional listening sessions throughout the state.

At the conclusion of the project, the collaborators will issue the Massachusetts Food is Medicine State Plan, which will include policy recommendations. They will use the plan to educate legislators, policy makers, and health-care leaders about how to improve health outcomes for people by connecting them with appropriate food resources.

Community Servings’ Director of Food & Health Policy Jean Terranova has been working with a researcher, Dr. Seth Berkowitz, to study the impact of medically tailored meals on hospitalizations and other health outcomes. Jean says that the preliminary data has been very positive, but that the researchers continue to see a “disconnect between healthcare providers’ understanding of the role of nutrition in health outcomes and healthcare costs, and the research demonstrating impact.” She hopes that the Massachusetts Food is Medicine State Plan will help to increase understanding of the role of appropriate food in improving health outcomes, and that programs, policies, and funding will follow.

Food Access, Security, and Health - Recommendation 5.1: Support actions by health care providers, hospitals and medical institutions that improve access to, and education about, healthy food, especially to people who are food insecure.