Why Should We Think About Food Insecurity and Health?
Social determinants of health, such as access to healthy foods, play an important role in disease prevention, health status and health outcomes. An estimated 20 percent of a person’s health status is predicted by health care services such as visiting a doctor. Socioeconomic factors such as location (zip code), food insecurity and health behaviors (e.g., smoking status, BMI) are estimated to play a much larger role [i].
Food insecurity is known to impact health status, including putting individuals at greater risk for chronic diseases, such as diabetes, hypertension, and kidney disease. Individuals with diet-sensitive chronic disease and food insecurity experience more difficulties managing their health, leading to more health complications, more emergency room usage, hospital stays and readmissions and ultimately higher health care costs. New research shows that food insecure patients cost the health care system an average of $1,863 per year, or $77.5 billion in additional health care expenditure annually.
In an effort to improve the health of patients and to reduce health care costs, many health care providers and payers are considering ways to effectively address food insecurity and other social determinants of health as “upstream” interventions. With their connections to the community and infrastructure to connect individuals and families to healthy food, food banks and other community based organizations can serve as good partners in these efforts toward health promotion.