Food Security and Healthcare Spending
A new study shows that food is medicine. Providing free meals to patients who need them may actually reduce healthcare costs.
499 high risk patients with chronic diseases were provided with medically tailored meals under the guidance of nutritionists. Researchers found that over several years, they spent less on healthcare compared to similar patients who were not given free food.
Even including the costs of the food, researchers estimated that providing free food reduced overall healthcare costs by $753 per patient, including the cost of the free food.
Study Type: Retrospective Cohort Study
Healthcare Utilization with Food Security
This sounds a bit counterintuitive, as social programs usually raise costs while benefiting recipients. Food stamps and WIC are all great programs, but are not designed to save money.
This particular program managed to save money by reducing healthcare utilization. Healthcare in the United States is immensely expensive.
Just by saving one hospital stay through better health would pay for years of free food.
Researchers found that this is exactly what happened. Patients who were given free food had an estimated 49% lower risk of being admitted to the hospital.
This then led an even greater reduction in the rate of skilled nursing facility admissions.
Skilled Nursing Facility
Food Insecurity & Chronic Disease
Unfortunately, food insecurity is all too common among patients with diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure.
These diseases, referred to as Cardiometabolic Diseases, are all highly dependent on diet and regular meals. Diabetics in particular need special medically tailored diets to keep their diabetes under control.
A study looking at food insecurity among patients with these diseases found that patients with diabetes, coronary heart disease, and high blood pressure were all more likely to experience food insecurity.
Individuals in our society who need regular diets the most also happen to be the least likely to have regular meals. Given the relatively low cost of food compared to the cost of healthcare, this represents a potential opportunity to help patients and save money for our healthcare system.
As the authors write:
When considering how best to improve health care use, we think it is necessary to understand the drivers of that use and develop specific interventions to address those specific drivers.
Learn More: Diet and Diabetes
A clinical study shows that it may be possible to put diabetes into remission through diet alone. It isn't easy, but it worked for 46% of patients in this study.
Learn More: Healthcare Costs in the United States
Healthcare costs are very high in the United States and they only continue to grow. As the above study suggests, any effort that to reduce healthcare utilization can significantly reduce spending.
The article below looks at trends in US Healthcare spending and it's continued growth.