For Those With Diabetes, A Good Diet Can Be Better Than Medicines

By Diane Archer

A recent article in NEJM Catalyst describes a new disease management trial at Geisinger Health System. Geisinger is testing providing free food to patients with diabetes who were not eating a balanced diet, as a medicine. It recognizes that a good diet can be better than medicines or at least reduce the need for drugs.

As of March 2018, Geisinger has enrolled 112 food-insecure patients with diabetes in its pilot program. More than one in 10 Americans (11.3% of Pennsylvanians) have diabetes. Geisinger designed this trial because food insecurity is often a trigger for diabetes. And more than 1 in 8 Americans are food insecure.

Food insecurity, in Geisinger’s program, means that people worried that their food would run out before they could afford more. Or, they could not afford to buy food so went without.

Geisinger offers the diabetics in its trial healthy food as if healthy food were a drug. Geisinger assumed that trial participants would eat the healthy food if Geisinger gave it away for free. Geisinger also teaches program participants about managing their diabetes. The study participants are expected to attend 15 hours of group classes. They have access to a care team, who can help with medication management, nutrition counseling and more.

Geisinger spends $2,400 per year on each patient over 18 months. And, to date, it has seen extraordinary results. Participants’ hemoglobin levels dropped. They experienced a 40% reduction in risk of death and complications. And, the annual cost of their care fell $192,000, from $240,000 to $48,000.

The study is small, so a lot is still unknown. Is the healthy food the driver of the program’s success, the patient education, or the synergy between them? One thing is sure, according to the researchers: “If a new diabetes drug became available that could double the effectiveness of glucose control, it would likely be priced considerably higher than $6 per week (and if it wasn’t, the pharmaceutical firm’s stockholders would be in revolt).”

Learn more about Medicare’s diabetes prevention program.

Diane Archer

Diane Archer

Diane Archer is founder and CEO of, a digital platform for baby boomers and carers. She began her career in health advocacy in 1989 as the founder and president of the Medicare Rights Center.

Did you find this article helpful?

Latest News

FDA Recalls Metformin and NP Thyroid

FDA Recalls Metformin and NP Thyroid

The FDA has issued a recall of two drugs–NP Thyroid and Metformin–after testing revealed that they weren’t up to code. Read more below, and if you’re taking either medication, please be sure to contact your doctor for how to continue treatment responsibly.  NP Thyroid Recalled Thirteen lots of NP Thyroid,…

Can Convalescent Plasma Treat COVID-19 Patients?

Can Convalescent Plasma Treat COVID-19 Patients?

One of the most promising treatments for COVID-19 is convalescent plasma, a component of blood. People who have been infected with the virus and are now healthy have developed COVID-19-fighting antibodies, which, the theory is, can be given to people currently sick with COVID-19 so that those antibodies can boost…

  • Advertisement