AmeriHealth Caritas Pennsylvania to use Medical Nutrition Therapy to Mitigate the Effects of Elevated Blood Lead Levels in Children

Health plan is working with a non-profit organization to provide therapeutic meals to children.

December 4, 2019 - Harrisburg, Pa.

Harrisburg, Pa. AmeriHealth Caritas Pennsylvania, a Medical Assistance (Medicaid) managed care plan serving Central and Northwestern Pennsylvania, is working with a Philadelphia-based non-profit organization to provide nutritious, medically tailored meals to children with potentially elevated blood lead levels as a strategy to help lessen lead absorption.

AmeriHealth Caritas Pennsylvania is expanding its existing arrangement with MANNA (Metropolitan Area Neighborhood Nutrition Alliance) to provide medically tailored meals for children with elevated blood lead levels. Presently, MANNA provides special meals for the health plan’s select diabetic members.

Encouraged by the results of therapeutic nutrition for its diabetic members, case managers at AmeriHealth Caritas Pennsylvania and MANNA’s registered dietitians began working on a special children’s menu to address the state’s growing lead poison problem.

The rate of Pennsylvania children with elevated levels of lead in their blood is among the nation’s highest1. On Aug. 29, Gov. Tom Wolf announced a new initiative to test more Pennsylvania children for lead.

“We are pleased to partner with MANNA to provide nutritious meals and counseling for our members to help them fight lead poisoning,” said Marge Angello, AmeriHealth Caritas Pennsylvania Market President. “The health benefits of proper nutrition and education are obvious, but we often underestimate the power and healing effects of food.”

Treatment for lead poisoning includes removing the source of lead, getting good nutrition, and, in severe cases, receiving chelation therapy. Chelating medicines bind to lead in the body and help remove it. Eating foods rich in iron, vitamins and minerals may be enough to help naturally reduce lead levels in the body. However, treatment cannot reverse any damage that has already occurred. High lead levels can damage the brain and central nervous system.

“Proper nutrition may be a key component in addressing the lead epidemic for the at-risk pediatric population in Pennsylvania, and, as recommended by the CDC, providing children with a well-balanced diet which includes a few key nutrients can potentially help to reduce lead absorption in the body,” said Nicole Laverty, RDN, LDN, Director of Nutrition & Client Services at MANNA. “We believe that supplementing medical treatment of elevated blood lead levels in children with our nutrition education and healthy meals will improve their nutritional status.”

MANNA’s special children’s menu (PDF) includes meals with a range of nutrient-dense foods to ensure that children meet recommended levels of iron, zinc, calcium and vitamin C in their diet to help reduce lead absorption. The health plan will select the recipients of these special meals. MANNA will ship the meals to families of children with elevated blood lead levels across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Many Pennsylvania communities have been adversely affected by lead poisoning. The major sources of lead exposure among children are lead-based paint and lead-contaminated dust found in deteriorating buildings. According to the Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) children and families at or below the poverty level, who live in older housing, are at greatest risk for lead poisoning. Prolonged exposure in children can lead to slower growth and development, hearing damage and attention and learning problems.

Residents in urban areas, such as Lancaster, and rural ones, such as Palmerton in Carbon County, have been identified as having elevated blood lead levels.

The city of Lancaster reported elevated lead levels in the drinking water of some of its schools. The schools shut off their water fountains and began providing students with bottled water.

“Because we serve people who are at or below the poverty line, many live in environments that may pose a health hazard to themselves and their children,” Angello said. “We will continue to partner with organizations like MANNA to develop programs to address the social, economic and environmental barriers that create obstacles to health and wellbeing of our members.”

1Childhood Lead Poisoning – A Hidden Problem: Lead-Poisoned Children in the U.S.