Does “food as medicine” make a big dent in diabetes?

An Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL)-supported study, conducted at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), is the first fully randomised clinical trial on the impact of a healthy diet on treating diabetes.

“We do know that food insecurity is problematic for people, so addressing that by itself has its own benefits, but we still need to figure out how best to improve health at the same time if it is going to be addressed through the health care system,” says Joseph Doyle of the MIT Sloan School of Management.


How much can healthy eating improve a case of diabetes? A new health care program attempting to treat diabetes by means of improved nutrition shows a very modest impact, according to the first fully randomized clinical trial on the subject.

The study, co-authored by MIT health care economist Joseph Doyle of the MIT Sloan School of Management, tracks participants in an innovative program that provides healthy meals in order to address diabetes and food insecurity at the same time. The experiment focused on Type 2 diabetes, the most common form.

The program involved people with high blood sugar levels, in this case an HbA1c hemoglobin level of 8.0 or more. Participants in the clinical trial who were given food to make 10 nutritious meals per week saw their hemoglobin A1c levels fall by 1.5 percentage points over six months. However, trial participants who were not given any food had their HbA1c levels fall by 1.3 percentage points over the same time. This suggests the program’s relative effects were limited and that providers need to keep refining such interventions.

MIT News