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Home-Delivered Meals Can Cut Need for Hospital Care

A study finds that nutritious food saves money and helps people avoid the ER

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Researchers reasoned that access to nutritious food helps keep people healthy, partly by reducing stress.

Delivering healthy food to low-income elderly or disabled people is one important way to improve their health and reduce their need for hospital stays or visits to emergency rooms, a new study concludes.

The study found that people eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid who had food delivered to their home had fewer ER visits than those without this benefit. Those who received meals that had been medically tailored fared especially well, with about 1.5 fewer ER visits, on average, over 19 months and half the number of hospital admissions.

Both groups had lower medical costs.

“These findings suggest the potential for meal-delivery programs to reduce the use of costly health care and decrease spending for vulnerable patients,” the researchers reported in the medical journal Health Affairs.

They reasoned that access to nutritious food helps keep people healthy, partly by reducing stress. And they noted that some vulnerable people might otherwise have to choose between paying for food or medicine.

The study cites evidence that food insecurity generally “is associated with $77 billion in excess health care expenditures each year.”

“Some people's response is that [food-delivery programs] will drive up the federal budget, which, on one hand, it does,” Craig Gundersen, a professor of agricultural strategy at the University of Illinois, who was not involved in the study, told the Washington Post. “But on the other hand, we have to look at the cost savings associated with this ... [through] nontrivial reductions in health care costs in our country.”

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