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

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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, dietician-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.

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