Study shows link between hunger and health care costs

According to a recent study, households that have a tough time putting food on the table face another big challenge. In addition to being food insecure, they have higher health care costs. “We already know that adults in households that are food insecure have more negative health outcomes than adults in food-secure households,” said University of Illinois economist Craig Gundersen. “However, the cost of the negative health outcomes associated with food insecurity were unknown.  This study allows us to quantify these additional costs.”

Gundersen said the total health care costs were higher for food-insecure adults across numerous categories.  These included inpatient hospitalization, emergency department visits, physician services, same-day surgeries, home health-care services, and prescription drugs.  In total, these costs rose with increasing severity of household food insecurity. 

Gundersen mentioned three main implications for the United States.  First, health-care providers should screen patients for food insecurity and then assist them to access additional supports, especially food assistance programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as the Food Stamp Program).  Second, when considering the benefits associated with SNAP and other food assistance programs, their effects on health-care costs should be acknowledged.  Because SNAP leads to reductions in food insecurity, it also leads to reductions in health-care costs.  Third, there is an increasing concern about the stubbornly high rates of food insecurity in the United States, despite the end of the Great Recession.  This concern and the urgency of the search for solutions should be heightened by the higher health-care costs associated with food insecurity.  

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