Hunger is a Costly Health Issue

Hunger is a well-documented health issue. Now we know how its harmful impacts drain dollars from the Massachusetts economy. New research—the first of its kind for Massachusetts—shows hunger and food insecurity in our state increased health-related expenditures by an estimated $2.4 billion at least, in 2016 alone.

This eye-opening figure reflects the avoidable costs of doctor’s visits, hospital stays, emergency room treatment, prescription medications, home healthcare, and much more associated with food insecurity. It also includes lost work time, low productivity, premature death and special education expenditures—indirect costs that sap the economic health of our state.

The study, conducted by Children’s HealthWatch and sponsored by The Greater Boston Food Bank (GBFB), used the most recent peer-reviewed research on food insecurity and its adverse effects on health conditions, and the most up-to-date data on the costs of treating health conditions in Massachusetts.

How Do the Avoidable Costs of Hunger Add Up?

Taking on the Health Costs of Hunger

In the study, An Avoidable $2.4 Billion Cost: The Estimated Health-Related Costs of Food Insecurity and Hunger in Massachusetts, Children’s HealthWatch and The Greater Boston Food Bank (GBFB) put forward policy recommendations to reduce food insecurity in Massachusetts. These recommendations propose actions to be taken by the healthcare community, the public sector and food-insecurity researchers.

First and foremost, GBFB and Children’s HealthWatch urge medical providers to screen for food insecurity in their patients. GBFB already partners with nine healthcare centers and supports their implementation of the Hunger Vital Sign™, a two-question food insecurity screening tool validated by Children’s HealthWatch. At the state and federal level, Children’s HealthWatch and GBFB advocate for increasing funding for the Massachusetts Emergency Food Assistance Program (MEFAP) that helps support the state’s four food banks, and maintaining current funding of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the nation’s largest and most critical hunger-relief program. And to learn more about food insecurity and its effects on health, we recommend further investigation of people at high risk of food insecurity and studies to determine the impact of increased access to food on health, among others.

The study’s authors, Dr. John T. Cook and Dr. Ana Poblacion, note that the costs listed in the report represent a conservative estimate, reflecting only those costs for which quantitative measures were available in the academic literature. The authors state that the costs attributable to food insecurity in Massachusetts are undoubtedly far greater than the estimated $2.4 billion.

Read the executive summary or the full report for a complete list of policy recommendations.