Focus on Food: IU Meals Pilot Program Shows Promising Results for Diabetes Control

Focus on Food midday June 10, 2024

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — A new pilot program aimed at improving diabetes control through medically tailored meals has shown significant promise, according to recent findings. The initiative was launched to explore the effectiveness of a “food as medicine” approach, with goals to both enhance diabetes management and establish a sustainable long-term model. Jennifer Bradley, manager of Population Health Operations at IU Health, appeared on News 8 Midday to discuss the project with WISH TV’s Jeremy Jenkins in detail.

Primary Objectives of the Pilot Program

The pilot program’s main goal was to determine whether medically tailored food could improve diabetes control and reduce medical costs. “Our program goals were: 1) to determine if we could indeed improve diabetes control for our patients with a food as medicine model, and 2) to determine how we could expand this model into a sustainable long-term program,” the Bradley stated.

Addressing Food Insecurity and Benefiting Patients

The program took a direct approach to combating food insecurity by delivering meals to patients’ homes, benefiting not just the patients but their entire households. Participants were also screened for benefit eligibility and assisted with applications, further addressing the root causes of food insecurity.

Clinical outcomes have demonstrated the impact of these efforts. The program used hemoglobin A1c (a1c) levels as the primary measure of success. At the start of the pilot, the average a1c was 9.9%. By the end of the pilot, the average a1c had decreased to 8.6%. Remarkably, even nine months post-intervention, the average a1c had further improved to 8%. Jennifer Bradley, the program manager, explained, “What I love about our program is we started out with two weeks of ready-to-eat meals. This takes all the pressure off the patient. They know exactly how much they should be eating. It’s portion-controlled. They’re able to make that connection between ‘I’m eating this way and I feel better. My blood sugar numbers are better.'”

“This tells me that our intervention is having a long-term impact on patient health,” Bradley noted.

The Role of Nutrition in Pilot Outcomes

Nutrition played a crucial role in the program’s success. Meals provided during the intervention were designed to optimize blood glucose control, featuring lower carbohydrates, lean proteins, healthy fats, and minimal added sugars. For the initial two weeks, participants received ready-to-eat meals to help with portion control and demonstrate the link between healthy eating and blood sugar levels. For the following 12 weeks, they received grocery boxes and ongoing support, including weekly consultations with a dietitian, educational resources, recipes, and cooking demonstrations.

Bradley highlighted the support aspect of the program: “Throughout that process, you have these weekly check-ins with the dietitian where the dietitian is saying, ‘Did you like that? Did you not like that? Well, how about we try this? Have you tried preparing it this way?’ So providing support to really carry the patient through and make those changes, not by themselves, but with the support around them.”

Future Expansion of the Program

As data collection continues, the program’s success is under review by partners, including a research team at Purdue University conducting an in-depth analysis. “Based on these findings, we are going to present them to our leaders and hopefully find a permanent home for this type of program,” the Bradley shared.

She expressed optimism about the program’s future: “I’m very hopeful by the end of this year or the start of next year.”

The promising results of this pilot program underscore the potential of medically tailored meals to not only manage diabetes more effectively but also address food insecurity, paving the way for broader implementation and long-term sustainability.

For more information, you can catch the full interview by clicking on the video at the top of the page.