Food-insecure households spend 20% more on health care

It is known that people who have trouble affording food or have enough to eat often have more health problems. A new study published in the journal Health Affairs found that families who are food insecure also spend more on health care than families with reliable access to food – about 20% more.

There are many reasons why an unsafe diet can put your health at risk.

“If you’re worried about eating enough when you’re on a limited grocery budget, you often have to rely on inexpensive, cheaper, and less healthy food options,” said Dr. Deepak Palakshappa, a professor at Wake Forest University and one of the authors of the study.

Eating less than healthy can lead to all sorts of health problems, like weight gain, diabetes or high blood pressure, he said.

Add to that the stress of constantly worrying about food.

“This is especially true for parents,” Palakshappa said. “If they’re constantly worrying, ‘How do I feed my child?’ — just the stress of worrying about it leads to poorer mental health, leads to poorer physical health.”

And that, he said, could lead to more doctor visits, more prescriptions and higher healthcare costs.

according to dr Seth Berkowitz of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, another author of the study, does just that with families affected by food insecurity.

“We’re seeing more inpatient hospitalizations, more emergency room visits, more drug spending and things like that,” he said.

That’s true whether a family is insured, uninsured, or has different types of coverage, Berkowitz added.

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“Food insecurity predisposes adults and children to poor health,” said Dr. Hilary Seligman, Professor at the University of California, San Francisco. “But we also need to be aware that poor health predisposes people in the US to food insecurity. And that’s because being sick is expensive.”

There are programs across the country — in various hospitals and through some insurance companies — that allow doctors to prescribe fruits and vegetables on principle, she said.

“We know these programs can help people make their diets safer. We know they support a healthier diet. But programs tend to be small, tend to be short-lived, and tend not to provide enough nourishment to make a real impact.”

To make a real impact — both on people’s health and on the cost of healthcare — these types of programs would need to be scaled up a lot and last much longer, she said.

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