Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota announces first-of-its-kind dietary support for high-risk pregnant women and their families

Blue Plus research program to study impact on Black and Indigenous health outcomes

February 23, 2021 11:10 AM EST

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EAGAN, Minn., Feb. 23, 2021 /PRNewswire/ -- Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota and Blue Plus (Blue Plus) today announced a new program with Second Harvest Heartland and Project Well to study the impact of comprehensive dietary support on maternal and infant health outcomes. The research project will recruit pregnant Black and Indigenous Blue Plus members with indicators linked to high-risk pregnancy to participate and receive up to seven months of nutrition benefits and services. The program will also take into consideration the nutritional needs of the whole household, including other children.  

"Pregnancy-related death and infant mortality rates are much higher among Black and Indigenous families, as compared to the white population. These inequities are rooted in systemic racism and disproportionate access to adequate prenatal care and nutrition," said Christine Reiten, vice president of Medicaid at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota. "Collaborative programs like this allow us to work toward a common goal of providing more upstream, preventive care and increase access to resources all families should have."

The nutritional assistance program is designed to be easy-to-navigate and responsive to unique needs with wraparound support that includes education, culturally-specific meal planning and food benefits that allow pregnant mothers to adequately nourish themselves and others in their care. The program includes up to seven months of personalized, comprehensive dietary support and nutritional coaching, starting as early as the beginning of the second trimester and continuing through two months post-partum. The study will track maternal and infant health outcomes as well as total cost of care.

Integrated services for a more holistic approachThe collaboration between Blue Plus, Project Well and Second Harvest Heartland effectively merges health care and hunger-related social services, seeking to positively impact upstream determinants of health for participants and their children. Project Well staff conducts member outreach and gets to know each individual and their eating habits to provide personalized nutritional counseling and meal plans in coordination with food provided by Second Harvest Heartland and other partners.

"Project Well is honored to be providing these women and their families with personalized, high quality meals, healthy food and education. As communities, we need to address the alarming maternal and infant health disparities," said Lauren Driscoll, MPH, founder and CEO of Project Well. "Nutrition is foundational to health equity. We are delighted to be working with two such strong organizations at the nexus of food and health care."

Leveraging the full capability of a food bankSecond Harvest Heartland integrates healthy food into patient health care through its FOODRx program. The food bank program sources, assembles and delivers healthy food boxes, tailored to cultural tastes and preferences, with fresh produce, shelf-stable staples and recipes to ensure the food comes together as a meal.

"Ensuring that moms-to-be have nutritious food and a community of support makes sense and bridges the longstanding gap between health care and hunger," said Theresa McCormick, Director of Programs and Health Care Partnerships for Second Harvest Heartland. "The truth is, food is medicine and it is efficient, effective health care."

In addition to providing food, Second Harvest Heartland program staff are a bridge to other community resources, including SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program/Food Stamps) and WIC.

Addressing racial and health inequities"Families of color are at least twice as likely as their white counterparts to live with hunger," said Allison O'Toole, CEO of Second Harvest Heartland. "This inequity in who is hungry is as troubling and unacceptable as the high rates of infant mortality in these communities. This new partnership gets to the heart of addressing both issues."

Blue Cross recognizes that communities work best when no one is left out or left behind. That is why the entire organization is working on creating a future that ensures equitable health, wellbeing and safety for all Minnesotans. It starts with addressing the systems, policies and business practices that uphold structural racism and cause health inequities. Blue Cross is firmly committed to addressing these by investing in community-led solutions, building capacity, and removing systemic barriers to health for Black, Indigenous and people of color through thorough collaborative community partnerships. This will see such structural racism tackled, and help to continue the work of eliminating health inequities as we aspire to be an even more effective anti-racist organization.

About Blue Cross and Blue Shield of MinnesotaBlue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, with headquarters in the St. Paul suburb of Eagan, was chartered in 1933 as Minnesota's first health plan and continues to carry out its charter mission today: to promote a wider, more economical and timely availability of health services for the people of Minnesota. A nonprofit, taxable organization, Blue Cross is the largest health plan based in Minnesota, covering 2.9 million members in Minnesota and nationally through its health plans or plans administered by its affiliated companies. Blue Cross® and Blue Shield® of Minnesota and Blue Plus® are nonprofit independent licensees of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, headquartered in Chicago.About Project WellProject Well is a new smart market platform that engages health plan members with nutritionally sensitive health conditions and provides them with personalized quality food solutions. We connect health plans (and their members) to a broad array of food vendors (supplying tasty, nutritionally targeted meals). With personalized, dietician-tailored food interventions, we can unlock the power of food to improve health, slow the progression of chronic disease and reduce health care costs, while delighting members with the best selection of healthful food choices. For more information, please visit

About Second Harvest HeartlandAt Second Harvest Heartland, we work to end hunger through partnerships. Last year our work provided more than 105 million meals to 360 food shelves and nearly 1,000 partner programs, supporting the more than one in nine people facing hunger in our region of 59 Minnesota and western Wisconsin counties. Second Harvest Heartland is more than a food bank. We're a leading partner in the policies and programs that work to end hunger, like SNAP, school meals and senior nutrition programs, and we're an innovator in the areas where food can be the solution, like FOODRx and Minnesota Central Kitchen. For more information, visit or call 651-484-5117.

HMO Minnesota, d.b.a. Blue Plus, is an affiliate of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota.

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SOURCE Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota

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