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Nutrition service hopes to bring medically-tailored meals across the U.S. to help the chronically ill

Posted at 6:50 PM, Dec 21, 2021

JAMAICA PLAIN, Mass. — The Community Servings kitchen has a lot of mouths to feed. The scratch-made food goes out to 150 communities across Massachusetts.

“Community Servings is a medically tailored meal program," said CEO David Waters. "Our focus is on feeding people across Massachusetts who are too sick to feed themselves or feed their families.”

Waters said the organization was founded in 1990 to feed people with HIV.

“The majority of people were dying of malnutrition," Waters said. "It's what's called AIDS wasting syndrome where your body is essentially burning all of its lean body mass in order to try and kill off the virus.”

Now, Community Servings is bringing meals to people battling all kinds of critical and chronic illnesses.

“We now feed people with cancer and kidney failure and diabetes and M.S. and heart disease, and they're all at a stage of an illness where they can't shop and cook for themselves,” Waters said.

One of those people is Bouba Dieme.

“I have a congenital heart condition that was diagnosed a bit later, but that kind of evolved to heart failure,” Dieme said.

The purpose of the meals is to bring healthy food to people with complex dietary needs.

For Dieme, a nutrient deficiency could land him in the ER.

“As a patient, it takes a heavier toll to have to organize food so you have that stress factor,” Dieme said.

He says the meals have helped him to stabilize his weight and helped his overall health.

It furthers the idea that food can be used as medicine. Dr. Megan Sandel is the co-director of Grow Clinic at Boston Medical Center. She researches undernutrition and social determinates of health.

“Medically-tailored meals are amazing for chronic diseases like diabetes and HIV,” Dr. Sandel said. "More and more we recognize that food and nutrition are a source of health, their actual outcomes will improve. For diabetes, the hemoglobin A1C will actually go down, which is kind of the blood value for seeing whether or not a person has kind of controlled their blood sugars. Or with HIV, you'll actually start to see improvement in T-cell counts and reduction in viral loads. And so you end up starting to want to think about food as one of the medical treatments needed in order to be the most successful with the other treatments that we're offering.”

Waters says Community Servings has research to show the meals help improve patient outcomes and lower medical costs.

“We looked at what their insurance costs were before we fed them and during and after we fed them, and what we saw was a 16 percent cost savings," Waters said. "And these are very expensive patients. So if you say to health care, we could save 16 percent on your most expensive patients, that's getting your attention. And with that, Community Serving went from one insurance contract to now 17 insurance contracts.”

Community Servings is a leading member of the Food is Medicine Coalition – a group of nonprofits across the country with similar food and nutrition services. The coalition has created an Accelerator project to help food banks and other nonprofits set up their own medically tailored meal deliveries to reach more sick people.

“It's a one-year curriculum where we teach other nonprofit food programs how to develop this level of complexity," Waters said.

Dieme says there’s no point in having the most advanced therapies without the fundamental of healthy eating. He’s a proponent of programs like these helping families all over the U.S.

“I'm a strong believer in community in the sense that, you know, if I'm not well, everybody else is not well and vice versa,” Dieme said.

He says he believes that healthy individuals breed healthy families and communities which in turn would breed a healthy country.