“Food as Medicine” Part Two: Key Stats in Cook County and Nationwide

Data in Chicago and nationwide illustrates the vicious hunger-health cycle and provides clues for how we can intervene.

Hunger, health, and socioeconomic condition are linked in a mutually-reinforcing feedback loop. In Part One of our “Food as Medicine” series, we explored the theoretical feedback loop connecting food insecurity, socioeconomic condition, and health.

A number of health and socioeconomic studies have found strong correlations between food insecurity and increased health risks. In the second entry of our “Food as Medicine” series, we’ll look at how data in Chicago and nationwide illustrates this vicious cycle and provides clues for how we can—and should—intervene.

The Data

The Costs of Food Insecurity

There are abundant statistics proving the current healthcare costs resultant of food insecurity and the benefits of adopting innovative “Food as Medicine” approaches.

  • In America, 1 in 3 patients who enter the hospital is malnourished.[1]
  • Studies show that social and economic factors account for 40% of health-related costs.[2] Medical care accounts for only 20% of health.[3]
  • Those with food insecurity have a significantly greater estimated mean annual health care costs of an extra $1,863/year/food insecure person, or $77.5 billion annually.[4]
  • Food insecurity increases certain health risks.[5]
    • The health effects of food insecurity are nutritional, mental, and behavioral:
      1. Nutritional Effects include obesity and nutrient deficiency.
      2. Mental Effects include anxiety, depression, and substance abuse.
      3. Behavioral Effects include missing clinic visits, non-adherence to treatment, and postponing care.
    • A number of chronic illnesses can have increased likelihood due to food insecurity,[6] such as:
      • Hypertension, asthma, tooth decay, infections, and birth defects;
      • Depression, anxiety, and emotional imbalance;
      • Stress and starvation

The Benefits of a “Food as Medicine” Approach

Studies show that enrollment in SNAP can dramatically improve healthcare outcomes. SNAP participants…

  • Incur $1,400 less for health care annually, compared to low-income non-participants,[7]
  • Have fewer child ER visits for asthma,[8]
  • Have fewer pregnancy-related ER visits,[9]
  • Have a lower probability of making an ER visit due to high blood pressure,[10] and
  • Are less likely to skip medications.[11]

Studies show that Medically Tailored Meals result in…

  • 16% healthcare cost savings,[12]
  • 28% reduction in hospitalizations,[13] and
  • 50% increase in medical treatment adherence.[14]

Also, redetermination rates are higher for cases of patients with Medicaid and SNAP versus cases of Medicaid-only patients.

The Data in Cook County

Chicago is significantly beleaguered by the negative health and economic effects of food insecurity.

Cook County

  • Illinois suffers about $2 billion annually in healthcare costs each year due to food insecurity, with most of such expenditures centered on the Greater Chicago area. That’s $1,884 per food insecure adult.[15]
  • In Cook County, 73% of low-income survey respondents in 2014 reported purchasing inexpensive, unhealthy food as a coping strategy.[16]
  • 62% of respondents had to choose between paying for food and paying for medicine, thus evidencing the negative feedback loop between food insecurity and healthcare costs.
  • Nearly all Illinois adults in Medicaid should be eligible for SNAP.[17]

Humboldt Park

In one of NFPN’s key neighborhoods, the data shows that food and health issues go hand-in-hand.

  • 46.2% of households in Humboldt Park reported low or very-low food security. [18] That is nearly half of all households and the highest food insecurity rate among the 9 community areas surveyed.[19]
  • Nearly 1/3 (31%) of the Humboldt Park community lives in poverty.[20]
  • 38.7% of Humboldt Park households receive food stamps.[21]
  • Only 13.9% of Humboldt Park adults eat the recommended combined daily intake of 5 servings of fruits and vegetables.[22]
In Part Three of our “Food as Medicine” series, we explore program concepts and implementations both in Chicago and across America.
Check out Part Three here.

By Ryan Maia, AmeriCorps VISTA, NFPN

Last Updated 9/23/2019

[1] https://www.forbes.com/sites/robertglatter/2019/01/30/malnutrition-in-hospitals-linked-to-greater-risk-of-death-study-finds/#a3023c912fb1

[2] http://publichealth.lacounty.gov/epi/docs/SocialD_Final_Web.pdf

[3] http://publichealth.lacounty.gov/epi/docs/SocialD_Final_Web.pdf

[4] https://hungerandhealth.feedingamerica.org/explore-our-work/community-health-care-partnerships/

[5] https://www.healthaffairs.org/doi/full/10.1377/hlthaff.2015.0645

[6] http://www.hpoe.org/Reports-HPOE/2017/determinants-health-food-insecurity-role-of-hospitals.pdf

[7] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-spending-food-aid/snap-food-aid-program-tied-to-lower-health-spending-for-poor-idUSKCN1C02O4

[8] https://www.mdmag.com/medical-news/lower-snap-benefits-may-increase-er-visits-for-pediatric-asthma

[9] https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11113-018-9481-5

[10] https://www.cbpp.org/research/food-assistance/snap-is-linked-with-improved-nutritional-outcomes-and-lower-health-care

[11] https://drugstorenews.com/pharmacy/study-snap-can-reduce-cost-related-nonadherence

[12] https://www.statnews.com/2019/07/05/medically-tailored-meals/

[13] https://thehill.com/opinion/healthcare/386568-medically-tailored-food-is-the-future-of-health-care

[14] https://www.ucsf.edu/news/2017/01/405651/food-medicine-hiv-positive-and-type-2-diabetes-patients

[15] https://public.tableau.com/profile/feeding.america.research#!/vizhome/TheHealthcareCostsofFoodInsecurity/HealthcareCosts

[16] http://help.feedingamerica.org/HungerInAmerica/hunger-in-america-2014-full-report.pdf

[17] https://essentialhospitals.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Chan_CookCountyHealthAndHospitalsSystem.pdf

[18] https://www.sinaisurvey.org/

[19] The nine community areas surveyed included Humboldt Park, Chicago Law, Gage Park, Hermosa, North Lawndale, Norwood Park, South Lawndale, West Englewood, and West-West Town.

[20] https://www.chicagohealthatlas.org/community-areas/humboldt-park

[21] https://www.chicagohealthatlas.org/community-areas/humboldt-park

[22] https://www.chicagohealthatlas.org/community-areas/humboldt-park

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