| February 19, 2019

BCBS Institute and HCSB launched foodQ for better, healthier eating habits

Anca Spanu

Anca's career in journalism spans over 2 decades. She has served as staff writer, editor and deputy chief editor at... Anca's career in journalism spans over 2 decades. She has served as staff writer, editor and deputy chief editor at various media outlets all over the world. At Healthcare Weekly, Anca writes about current events, innovations in the healthcare space and events/ conferences with a focus on investing & startups.

Health Care Service Corporation (HCSC) and the Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) Institute announced, February 11th, the debut of foodQ, a healthy food delivery service that brings nutritious, affordable meals to people living in food deserts. These are areas lacking adequate access to fresh foods, normally found in a healthy diet. Through the foodQ service, consumers will have easy access to affordable, nutritious foods. The aim is to better manage diet-related chronic conditions, thus reducing time spent in hospitals or emergency rooms, by improving patients’ health outcomes. This is a good sign, especially after a rocky 2018, that BCBS  is taking control of its message and focusing foodQn population health.

Why is good nutrition important for our health?

Good nutrition and physical activity can help us get in shape and maintain a healthy weight, reduce the risk of chronic diseases (ex., heart disease and cancer), and improve one’s overall health.

With obesity as one of the main outcomes of unhealthy eating habits in the United States, the numbers are clearly proving the need to change how people eat.  Sometimes poor food choices are not because people do not want to have better food, but are simply because no everyone can find or afford it. Since about one-third of U.S. adults (33.8%) are obese and around 17% (or 12.5 million) of children and adolescents aged 2—19 years are obese, the need to act is even greater.

Poor diet implies major health risks that can develop into illnesses or lead to death  even for individuals who reach a healthy weight. They too can develop heart disease, hypertension (high blood pressure), type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, and certain types of cancer if they do not make the right choices when it comes to food.

Since hypertension and type 2 diabetes, two of the most important risks for adult chronic conditions are increasingly discovered in younger patients, as outcomes of weight gain due to  unhealthy eating habits, childhood dietary habits are crucial to shaping their adult behaviour. The secret of staying healthy throughout one’s life is being taught, at an early age, how to eat healthy. But, even if childhood eating habits were not the best, change is possible and might be easier than one thinks, provided there is access to the right kind of food.

What can we do to eat healthier and improve our health?

There are a few pointers on what one can do to eat healthier, thus preserving good health:

  • Half the plate needs to be fruits and vegetables
  • Half the grains one eats have to be whole grains
  • The milk needs to be fat-free or low-fat (1%)
  • A variety of lean protein foods is mandatory
  • Less salt in foods is preferable
  • Water should replace sugary drinks
  • Some type of seafood should be eaten at least once a week
  • Solid fats, those in cakes, cookies, pizza, processed and fatty meats, or ice cream, should be reduced.

What is BCBS Institute doing for some of Chicago’s citizens?

HCSC supported the BCBS Institute’s development of foodQ through Affordability Cures, the company’s commitment to develop long-term solutions for food deserts.

“Food deserts are one of the key social determinants of health impacting millions of Americans,” said Manika Turnbull, vice president and community health and economic impact officer, HCSC. “With this program we are meeting people where they live to provide access, affordable pricing and education that can influence healthy behaviors, reduce health disparities and improve their quality of life.”

After Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) made a partnership with Fitbit last summer, to get its 60 million members a special deal on the fitness tracking devices, in order to “help consumers create and maintain healthy habits”, this new venture maintains the company’s main focus, which is to keep people healthy.

The aim of the current program is to directly address the causes behind the expenses of the present  healthcare system, by first investing in social determinants of health. The BCBS Institute will pilot foodQ in 25 Chicago ZIP codes and 15 Dallas ZIP codes where HCSC operates health plans. Regardless of their insurance status or company, all consumers living in these ZIP codes can participate.

“We know a ZIP code is just as important as a genetic code in determining a person’s health – impacting medical needs and access to care,” said Dr. Trent Haywood, president, BCBS Institute. “As a physician, I know I can easily write a prescription, but what I don’t know is how am I going to make sure patients have access to healthy meals they can afford and want to eat. With the alarming rates of obesity and diabetes in our country, we need a different approach to supporting healthy living, and this pilot program can help remove the barriers that keep people from accessing healthy, affordable and nutritious foods.”

How does foodQ program work?

Consumers living in ZIP codes associated with the pilot service can see ready-to-heat lunch and dinner meal options on the mobile-optimized foodQ website. Their eligibility is verified when they enter the ZIP codes. After that, participants provide their payment information and choose their meal, together with a date and time for delivery. There are five meal categories, including beef, chicken, fish, pork and vegetarian options, from which the consumers can choose. The order will be confirmed by text message, and consumers will also be notified when the order is on its way and has been delivered.

Participants can subscribe to foodQ for $10 per month, with free delivery and a buy-one-get-one option for every meal they buy. Those who choose not to subscribe can buy individual meals for $10, the delivery fee being $6 per order. In Chicago, meal deliveries started being operational in the first week of February, and those in Dallas will start in April.

HCSC and the BCBS Institute both committed to improve people’s health by removing barriers to a healthier lifestyle. Each had their part in the process, with BCBS Institute creating the mobile-optimized foodQ website, finding food desert neighborhoods and establishing relationships with companies to prepare and deliver meals: Kitchfix in Chicago and Front Porch Pantry in Dallas.

During the whole six-month pilot program, participant surveys will be used by HCSC and the BCBS Institute to show whether the foodQ service is in demand and proves useful. They will also assess whether and to which degree nutritious meal consumption helps consumers avoid hospital stays and emergency room visits.


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