Food Outreach Collaborates with Mercy to Launch First-of-its-Kind Pilot Program

November 1, 2022

ST. LOUISFood Outreach, the only provider of medically tailored meals and nutrition counseling for people living with HIV and cancer in Missouri and western Illinois, and Mercy, one of the 25 largest U.S. health systems, are working together to launch a program offering medically tailored meals to eligible Mercy patients experiencing nutrition insecurity and uncontrolled type II diabetes. With an initial cohort of 100 Mercy patients, the program will focus on serving individuals in St. Louis City, St. Louis County, St. Charles County and Jefferson County. Food Outreach will provide the equivalent of two free medically tailored meals per day to each patient (62 meals monthly), which includes scratch-prepared meals, groceries and fresh produce for 12 months, along with free medical nutrition therapy by their registered dietitians.

A silent killer, diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in Missouri and across the U.S. This chronic disease occurs when the body’s ability to produce the hormone insulin is compromised, leading to elevated blood sugar levels. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the most prevalent form of diabetes is type II, which affects 90-95% of people with the disease. Research has shown that among people with type II diabetes, a reduction in HbA1c prevents long-term complications. Medically tailored meals and medical nutrition therapy are promising strategies for patient-centric diabetes care (Contemporary Clinical Trials, Vol. 108, Sept. 2021).

“A nutrient-rich diet is the cornerstone to maintaining optimal health and managing illness. Medically tailored meals based on the diagnostic needs of our patients with uncontrolled type II diabetes will help improve their overall well-being.” said Dr. Gretchen Shull, medical director for Diabetes Care across Mercy. “By taking a proactive approach in working with Food Outreach, an organization with a proven track record of providing medically tailored meals and nutrition counseling for individuals with chronic illness, we are working to keep our patients healthier and out of the hospital.”

Mercy doctor's coat Food Outreach volunteer packages fresh green beans for patients.

“We are proud to collaborate with Mercy and honored to provide our services to their patients with uncontrolled diabetes,” said Julie Lock, executive director at Food Outreach. “We know our meals and nutrition supporting interventions will help improve their well-being and quality of life. Nutritious food is essential to better health—especially for individuals living with chronic illness.”

Through its collaboration with Mercy, Food Outreach seeks to alleviate nutrition insecurity for individuals diagnosed with uncontrolled diabetes by providing medically tailored meals. The organization is eager to explore how its medically tailored meal program and nutrition supporting interventions will lead to improvements in patient HbA1c, disease management, nutrition and food insecurity, and quality of life.

Mercy patients referred to the program must meet eligibility requirements, including having an HbA1C (blood sugar level) of 8 or greater at the time of intake and living at or below 300% of the 2022 Federal Poverty Level for an individual. Each patient will receive the equivalent of two medically tailored meals per day, which include scratch-prepared entrees, fresh produce, grocery staples and frozen proteins (chicken, beef, turkey, and salmon). All meals can be home-delivered to each patient by the agency or participants can come to the Food Outreach grocery center in midtown St. Louis and order their groceries from a menu. In addition, participating patients will receive personalized dietetic counseling by Food Outreach’s registered dietitians throughout enrollment. All of the agency’s services are provided at no charge to its clients.

For 35 years, Food Outreach has been at the forefront of delivering innovative and progressive wellness and nutrition initiatives that utilize a Food as Medicine approach (e.g., systems approach to food and nutrition issues) to positively affect complex and evolving health challenges faced by society’s most vulnerable residents. A vital community resource, the organization is the only nonprofit in the greater St. Louis region focused on meeting the nutrition needs of people battling nutrition insecurity and life-threatening illnesses.

With this new pilot program, Food Outreach is building positive outcomes around the benefits of its Medically Tailored Meals program for individuals living with uncontrolled diabetes. Valuable data gathered from the pilot will inform the organization’s future strategic direction while highlighting the importance of nutrition-supporting treatment within conversations occurring on the national level.

Mercy doctor's coat Food Outreach provides medically tailored meals for patients.

About Food Outreach
Founded in 1988, Food Outreach is the only organization and nonprofit in Missouri and Western Illinois providing nutritional support, through its Medically Tailored Meals and Grocery programs, to individuals of all ages living with HIV or cancer. The organization currently serves more than 1,400 individuals ages 17-90 in 160 Missouri and Illinois zip codes—many of whom live with multiple secondary illnesses in addition to their primary diagnosis. For more information visit: foodoutreach.org.