Evaluating Impact of the Food is Medicine Approach on Health

Project Summary: 

The home delivery of medically tailored meals (MTM) - an approach called "Food is Medicine" - offers a convenient, healthy, and medically optimized diet for the severely ill. The project team is evaluating the impact of MTM programs on health care expenditures, inpatient hospitalizations, and emergency department visits in severely ill and nutritionally vulnerable adults. Results will inform policy discussions about partnerships between social services and health care organizations, addressing the fundamental causes of adverse health outcomes for the severely ill who are high utilizers of health care.

Photo by Kate McElwee.


Health: emergency department visits and inpatient admissions; indicators of disease progression including subcategories related to specific illnesses (e.g., diabetes or cancer); medication adherence

Economic: health care expenditures and chronic disease management outcomes such as meeting process measures


Quasi-experimental design

  • Primary Analyses: Near-far matching that combines elements of propensity score matching and instrumental variable analysis. Participants will be matched based on pre-enrollment ICD-9 diagnoses, demographics, insurance type, and neighborhood characteristics to find those who are similar on these characteristics, but differ on whether they were "encouraged" into the intervention by instrumental variables. The instrumental variables to be tested include the distance a participant lives from the Community Servings (CS) agency and whether a participant's primary care practice has previously referred patients to CS.
  • Exploratory analyses using a subset of the overall study sample for chronic disease management outcomes.
  • Potential return on investment analysis if there is evidence of reduction in health care cost and use.

Participation in a medically tailored meal (MTM) intervention is associated with fewer subsequent hospitalizations and nursing home admissions – major components of the nation’s healthcare budget. MTM participants experienced a 16% reduction in monthly healthcare costs vs. a matched control group.

Principal Investigators: 

Jean Terranova, JD

Seth A. Berkowitz, MD, MPH

Kevin C. Cranston, MDiv

Liisa M. Randall, PhD

Grant Start Date: 
December 2016
Award Amount & Duration: 

$358,040 and 30 months