Diabetes Education More Effective When Paired With Medically Tailored Meals


Today, more than nine percent of Americans are living with diabetes [1], a disease that is costly for those diagnosed and for our health care system as a whole. In the U.S., one in seven health care dollars is spent treating diabetes and its complications [2].

Thanks to our study measuring the impact of medically tailored meals on monthly health care costs, we know that these costs go down nearly 27 percent when people with diabetes receive Project Angel Heart meals. And the cost reductions continue after meal service ends. Diabetes self-management education programs—which help participants navigate their diagnosis, manage symptoms, and prevent complications—have also proven effective at reducing health care costs for people with diabetes [3].

Based on these results, we recently partnered with Telligen QIN-QIO, an organization that contracted with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to provide education for Coloradans living with diabetes. Our goal was to learn what impact pairing diabetes self-management education with medically tailored meals would have on people who received both.

Though the number of participants in the pilot project was small, the results were positive. Of those receiving both education and meals, 63 percent experienced weight reductions (as opposed to 50 percent of those receiving education only). Ninety-one percent of people receiving both education and meals saw improvements in their systolic blood pressure, while only 51 percent of people receiving only education saw improvement in this area.

“While the clinical outcomes are great, we learned a lot from participant feedback, as well,” said Leslie Scotland-Stewart, director of health care innovation at Project Angel Heart. “Many participants reported that the meals helped them identify new, healthy foods that they liked.”

Participants receiving both meals and education also saw improvements in behavioral and mental health. They were less likely to report feeling overwhelmed by living with diabetes and more likely to test their blood sugar regularly.

“The food deliveries from Project Angel Heart were surprisingly good,” said one participant. “They have helped us expand our ideas of healthy menu choices and better judge portion size.”

“The report shows there’s a significant upside to incorporating medically tailored meals into treatment plans earlier, addressing root causes and symptoms before an illness progresses,” said Scotland-Stewart. “Because the related cost savings could be substantial, we hope to expand the pilot and conduct a large-scale study on the benefits of pairing diabetes self-management education with deliveries of medically tailored meals.”

Read the full report.

[1] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2017, July 18). New CDC report: More than 100 million Americans have diabetes or prediabetes [Press release]. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2017/p0718-diabetes-report.html

[2] American Diabetes Association.“Economic Costs of Diabetes in the U.S. in 2017.” Diabetes Care. May 2018. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.2337/dci18-0007. 31 July 2019.

[3] Turner RM, Ma Q, Lorig K, Greenberg J, DeVries AR. Evaluation of a Diabetes Self-
Management Program: Claims Analysis on Comorbid Illnesses, Health Care Utilization,
and Cost. J Med Internet Res 2018;20(6):e207. doi:10.2196/jmir.9225

Amy Daly is Project Angel Heart’s director of marketing and communications. While the majority of her professional experience is in nonprofit fundraising and communications, she also loves learning and talking about nutrition. Amy has a BA in journalism from Colorado State University and an MBA from the University of Denver’s Daniels College of Business. In her spare time, she enjoys running, inventing wild and silly songs and stories for her daughter, reading (and occasionally finishing) a good novel, and exploring Colorado.