Study Finds Meal Recipients Have Better Health, Can Afford Care

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A new study shows that medically appropriate food assistance is associated with improved health for people living with HIV and diabetes.

The study followed individuals living with HIV and/or type 2 diabetes in the San Francisco Bay Area. After measuring their baseline health, participants received daily nutritious meals and snacks from Project Open Hand– a nonprofit organization similar to Project Angel Heart that provides nutritious meals for critically ill neighbors in San Francisco. Each meal was prepared fresh and tailored to meet nutritional guidelines, and participants or caregivers picked up food twice per week. Researchers from Project Open Hand and the University of California San Francisco evaluated participants’ health again after they had received meals for six months.

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After receiving nutritious meals, participants in the study had better health and were able to afford and manage their health care

Results show that meal recipients had a higher quality diet after receiving the meals. They ate fatty foods less often, and fruits and vegetables more often.

Mental health and substance use also changed over the course of the study. Meal recipients had fewer depressive symptoms and reported binge drinking less often when their health was reassessed after six months.

Additionally, meal recipients were better able to afford health care and adhere to their health regimen. Fewer participants reported giving up health care to pay for food, or giving up food to spend money on copays or prescriptions, after receiving meals. Those living with HIV took their antiretroviral medications more regularly, and researchers saw improvements to BMI and disease self-management among those living with type 2 diabetes.

These results show that medically tailored meals can help mitigate the negative impacts of chronic illness on health, economic wellbeing, and quality of life. “Our study provides initial support to the proposition that ‘Food is Medicine’ may be an effective, low-cost strategy to improve health in vulnerable populations,” conclude the researchers.

Project Open Hand is one of our sister organizations and a fellow member of the Food Is Medicine Coalition, a group of food/nutrition service providers around the country working together to address shared challenges and advocate for the inclusion of nutrition into chronic disease treatment plans.


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Hannah Koschnitzke is Project Angel Heart’s Grants & Marketing Assistant. Inspired by her own family’s experience receiving meals from friends and neighbors when her mom was sick, she came to Project Angel Heart in 2014 to coordinate volunteers. In 2016 she moved into her current role, where she writes everything from grant proposals to tweets and is allowed to love grammar unabashedly. Hannah grew up in Estes Park, Colorado and earned her bachelors degree in sociology and religious studies from the University of Denver. She is an avid skier, library book reader, window shopper, beer drinker, and aspiring home chef.