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Association between household food insecurity and annual health care costs [Research]

Background:

Household food insecurity, a measure of income-related problems of food access, is growing in Canada and is tightly linked to poorer health status. We examined the association between household food insecurity status and annual health care costs.

Methods:

We obtained data for 67 033 people aged 18–64 years in Ontario who participated in the Canadian Community Health Survey in 2005, 2007/08 or 2009/10 to assess their household food insecurity status in the 12 months before the survey interview. We linked these data with administrative health care data to determine individuals’ direct health care costs during the same 12-month period.

Results:

Total health care costs and mean costs for inpatient hospital care, emergency department visits, physician services, same-day surgeries, home care services and prescription drugs covered by the Ontario Drug Benefit Program rose systematically with increasing severity of household food insecurity. Compared with total annual health care costs in food-secure households, adjusted annual costs were 16% ($235) higher in households with marginal food insecurity (95% confidence interval [CI] 10%–23% [$141–$334]), 32% ($455) higher in households with moderate food insecurity (95% CI 25%–39% [$361–$553]) and 76% ($1092) higher in households with severe food insecurity (95% CI 65%–88% [$934–$1260]). When costs of prescription drugs covered by the Ontario Drug Benefit Program were included, the adjusted annual costs were 23% higher in households with marginal food insecurity (95% CI 16%–31%), 49% higher in those with moderate food insecurity (95% CI 41%–57%) and 121% higher in those with severe food insecurity (95% CI 107%–136%).

Interpretation:

Household food insecurity was a robust predictor of health care utilization and costs incurred by working-age adults, independent of other social determinants of health. Policy interventions at the provincial or federal level designed to reduce household food insecurity could offset considerable public expenditures in health care.

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