Community Servings, Massachusetts General Hospital and University of North Carolina Partner on Clinical Trial of ‘Food is Medicine’ Intervention for Patients with Diabetes
BOSTON, Sept. 23, 2020 – A “food is medicine” research partnership of Community Servings, Massachusetts General Hospital and the University of North Carolina School of Medicine today announced it has received a $2.9 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to expand the study of medically tailored meal delivery as an effective health care intervention.
The five-year “R01” grant will support a randomized clinical trial involving 200 individuals with type 2 diabetes and food insecurity in Massachusetts. Over 30 million Americans have diabetes, 20 percent of whom have insufficient access to enough food to sustain an active, healthy life. Food insecurity is associated with poor diabetes control, increased medical complications and higher costs of care.
“This study takes our research efforts to another level – building on previous analyses of claims data that found positive patient outcomes and lower health care costs associated with our meals, to launching an advanced clinical test involving individuals living with diabetes and lacking food resources,” said David B. Waters, CEO of Community Servings. “We are grateful for the support of the NIH and look forward to working with our research partners on this exciting project.”
Medically tailored meal programs, such as the Community Servings kitchen operation based in Boston and similar nonprofit organizations in other states, deliver scratch-made meals tailored by a registered dietitian nutritionist to meet the specific medical needs of individuals with chronic and critical illnesses. The meals can be designed for up to 15 medical diets, and customized with up to three different combinations to address co-morbid conditions.
Dr. Seth A. Berkowitz, assistant professor at the UNC School of Medicine, is the principal investigator for the research team, which includes Dr. Deborah Wexler, an endocrinologist clinical investigator, and Linda Delahanty, Director of Nutrition and Behavioral Research and a lifestyle intervention investigator from the Diabetes Research Center at Mass General.
“This clinical trial will incorporate an innovative lifestyle change component into the medically tailored meal delivery program that will teach people not only what to eat but how to eat in a way that is sustainable,” Delahanty said. “We will teach patients key nutrition, activity and behavioral skills needed to improve their diabetes self-management.”
Dr. Berkowitz previously led a pilot randomized clinical trial that found medically tailored meal delivery was successful in improving diet quality and control of the disease among recipients with diabetes and food insecurity.
“While medically tailored meal delivery programs are gaining increased public attention and acceptance by health care providers, there has yet to be a full-scale clinical trial to test its effects on diabetes outcomes when compared to other food insecurity interventions,” Berkowitz said. “We will be looking for improvements in hemoglobin A1c levels as well as patient-reported outcomes such as hypoglycemia, diabetes distress and quality of life.”
In the clinical trial, a diverse group of adults will be enrolled and randomly assigned either to Community Servings’ medically tailored meal delivery program or to their usual diabetes care plus a monthly healthy food subsidy. Outcomes will be assessed at six and 12 months, and the research project will continue for five years.
“Not only do we feed the sick, we are working every day to change the way America feeds the sick,” said Jean Terranova, Director of Food and Health Policy at Community Servings. “While we already believe that food can be powerful medicine, this rigorous public health research program will significantly enhance our understanding of medically tailored meals as an important tool in treating diabetes while addressing food insecurity.”
About Community Servings
Founded in 1990, Community Servings’ mission is to actively engage the community to provide medically tailored, nutritious, scratch-made meals to chronically and critically ill individuals and their families. To help clients maintain their health and dignity, Community Servings provides culturally appropriate meals, nutrition education and counseling, and other community programs. For more information about programs and opportunities to volunteer or donate, please visit www.servings.org.
About Massachusetts General Hospital
Massachusetts General Hospital, founded in 1811, is the original and largest teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School. The Mass General Research Institute conducts the largest hospital-based research program in the nation, with an annual research budget of more than $1 billion and comprises more than 8,500 researchers working across more than 30 institutes, centers and departments. In August 2020, Massachusetts General Hospital was named #6 in the nation by U.S. News & World Report in its list of “America’s Best Hospitals.”
About UNC School of Medicine
The UNC School of Medicine is North Carolina’s largest medical school graduating approximately 180 new physicians each year. It is consistently ranked among the top medical schools in the U.S., including 1st overall for primary care by U.S. News & World Report, and 6th for research among public universities. More than half of the school’s 1,700 faculty members served as principal investigators on active research awards in 2019. Two UNC School of Medicine faculty members have earned Nobel Prize awards.