Nutrition as a means of Health Promotion and Disease Management

PA Students at MANNASalus University’s Physician Assistant (PA) Studies program emphasizes experiential and service learning, which is why for three years now, PA students have volunteered at the Metropolitan Area Neighborhood Nutrition Alliance (MANNA) in Philadelphia.

MANNA’s mission is to provide medically tailored meals to help improve health outcomes for those living with serious illness.  This service learning experience affords PA students the opportunity to apply didactic content provided in the nutrition module of their Integrative Medicine course.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is a group of diverse medical and healthcare systems and practices not typically considered part of conventional medicine. Common CAM therapies include acupuncture, meditation, the use of natural products, and abiding by special dietary guidelines – one of the core tenets of MANNA’s mission of “food as medicine.”

"We are fortunate to have an opportunity like this locally for our students,” said Adam Moore, MHS, PA-C, ATC, assistant professor in the PA program. “It gets them out of the classroom to truly experience some tremendous work that is going on in the community-work that is helping people become healthier through nutrition on a daily basis.”

“I think that this experience helps the students get an eye-opening real life experience in the holistic management of patients," Moore said.

PA Students at MANNA
In early spring, small groups of first-year students and faculty members gathered to work alongside other MANNA volunteers to prepare, package and deliver meals directly to individuals’ homes.

“I wish more cities had something like MANNA because obviously there is a need for it,” said Mellie Tuma ‘20PA.

While MANNA was initially formed to provide meals to those diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, for the past decade the organization serves those with serious medical conditions such as cancer, diabetes, and renal and cardiac disease.

PA Students at MANNAMANNA has conducted research on both the health benefits and cost savings generated by personalized therapeutic meals combined with nutrition counseling. The study revealed that, when compared to the control group, patients receiving MANNA services recognized an average reduction in monthly healthcare costs of $13,000 and a decrease in number of hospital visits by 50 percent, with hospital stays reported as being 37 percent shorter.

“It’s an amazing organization that helps so many people. I’m really happy that we had the opportunity to come here and help,” said Emily Bwint ‘20PA.

Classmate Elysa Kolvek ‘20PA agreed. “Being able to help people who are in a vulnerable state is really rewarding. Getting up early and getting to do this is an awesome opportunity that puts everything into perspective for us,” she said.