HAP Resource Center

Fact Sheet: Hospitals, Health Care, and Food Insecurity

Many people and families struggle with food insecurity

  • More than one in 10 Pennsylvanians are food insecure
  • In Philadelphia, it’s one in five adults and one in five children
  • Results from Philadelphia-area hospitals’ patient screenings show 24 percent are food insecure

People who experience food insecurity are sicker …

  • Children are twice as likely to be in poor health
  • Adults are about 40 percent more likely to have one or more chronic conditions—and more than three times as likely to skip needed medication due to cost
  • Seniors are 40 percent more likely to report congestive heart failure; 53 percent more likely to report heart attacks

   … and need more health care, resulting in more health care spending

  • Food insecure adults are about 50 percent more likely to go to the emergency room and to be hospitalized and, on average, have about $1,900/year more in health care expenditures
  • Food insecure adults with chronic diseases have more health care expenditures than food secure adults with the same diseases (with heart disease, $5,100/year more; with diabetes, $4,400 more; with hypertension, $2,200 more)

Hospitals are working to break that cycle

  • Pennsylvania hospitals are prescribing healthy food, hosting farmer’s markets and on-site food pantries, growing their own produce and sharing it with patients, and holding healthy cooking classes
  • Hospitals in the Philadelphia area are working together and with community partners to screen patients for food insecurity and connect them to food assistance
  • To date, 6,777 patients have been screened, with 24 percent screening positive and referred to community partners for help with food insecurity, including referrals for SNAP benefits

SNAP is an indispensable tool and wise investment

  • Average SNAP benefits during 2017 amount to about $1,512/year per individual, $3,048/year per household of three
  • Food insecurity is reduced (by 1/5 overall, and 1/3 for children) when families get SNAP
  • Compared to low-income adults without SNAP, those who participate in SNAP have $1,400/year (25%) less in health care expenditures
  • Low-income adults who are struggling with chronic disease and participate in SNAP have even greater reductions in health care expenditures (with coronary heart disease, about $4,100/year less; with hypertension, nearly $2,700/year less)

Reference List

Food insecurity in Pennsylvania. Feeding America website. Published 2017. Accessed March 11, 2018
Food insecurity in Philadelphia County. Feeding America website. Published 2017. Accessed March 11, 2018
Gundersen C, Ziliak JP. Food insecurity and health outcomes. Health Affairs. 2015;34(11):1830–1839
Gregory CA, Coleman-Jensen A. Washington, D.C.: Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service. Food insecurity, chronic disease, and health among working-age adults. Economic Research Report 235. Published July 2017. Accessed March 11, 2018
Herman D, Afulani P, Coleman-Jensen A, Harrison GG. Food insecurity and cost-related medication underuse among nonelderly adults in a nationally representative sample. American Journal of Public Health. 2015;105(10):48–59
Borden EA, Doyle EZ, Ingraham MB, et al; National Foundation to End Senior Hunger. Bindra J, De Paul A, Engelhard E, et al; Feeding America. Spotlight on Senior Health: Adverse Health Outcomes of Food Insecure Older Americans. Feeding America website. Published 2014. Accessed March 11, 2018
Berkowitz S, Seligman HK, Basu S. Impact of food insecurity and SNAP participation on healthcare utilization and expenditures. University of Kentucky UKnowledge website. Published 2017. Accessed March 11, 2018
Berkowitz SA, Basu S, Meigs JB, Seligman H. Food insecurity and health care expenditures in the United States, 2011–2013. Health Services Research. Published online: June 13, 2017. (doi 10.1111/1475-6773.12730)
A Quick Guide to SNAP Eligibility and Benefits. Center on Budget and Policy PrioritiesUpdated February 7, 2018. Accessed March 11, 2018
Mabli J, Ohls J, Dragoset L, Castner L, Santos B. Measuring the Effect of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Participation on Food Security. United States Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service. Published August 2013. Accessed March 11, 2018
Berkowitz SA, Seligman HK, Rigdon J, Meigs JB, Basu S. Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participation and health care expenditures among low-income adults. JAMA Internal Medicine. 2017;177(11):1642-1649


Topics: Access to Care, Population Health

Revision Date: 3/12/2018

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