Over the last 25 years, research has shown that social determinants of health have powerful effects on health outcomes, particularly food insecurity. Those who are food-insecure lack access to affordable and healthy foods, which has adverse effects on health and development. Maintaining a healthy diet becomes a subsidiary concern when there are multiple unmet social needs to address but social service programs offered by community partners can help address those unmet needs.
According to a recently released summary report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, connecting low-income communities with nutritional programs like SNAP is linked to an increase in food security and better health outcomes.
The Health-Related Costs of Food Insecurity in America
Food insecurity is one of the most significant social determinants of health in the U.S.. Food insecurity refers to the lack of access to sufficient food for a healthy, active life and it affects a substantial portion of the population. As of 2016, 15.6 million Americans live in food-insecure households. This means that 15.6 million Americans are at risk for developing chronic illnesses like heart disease or are unable to manage existing chronic illnesses. Extensive research has shown that a strong correlation exists between food insecurity and chronic health conditions. According to one study, food-insecure households spend about 45% more ($6,100) on medical care in a year than people in food-secure households ($4,200).
SNAP offers nutritional assistance to more than 43 million low-income families and individuals in the U.S and recipients are typically working people with children, senior citizens or the disabled. For these recipients, SNAP is a critical part of their lives. Programs that offer nutritional assistance like SNAP help elevate Americans out of poverty and improve food security. These programs are essential for helping at-risk populations build a foundation of health and well-being.
How Social Service Programs Reduce Healthcare Costs
Programs like SNAP can improve food insecurity by as much as 30%. In one study, researchers looked at data comparing food insecurity in households that just started SNAP, and then again after six months in SNAP. The results revealed that SNAP benefits improved food insecurity most effectively in households with vulnerable recipients in at-risk populations like children. After just one month in SNAP benefits, food insecurity amongst children fell by ⅓ and food insecurity overall fell by ⅕.
Because food assistance programs provide at-risk populations with access to healthier food, it can also free up money that households can allocate toward medical services and other health resources, like insulin or a blood pressure monitor. For example, another study showed that on average, adults participating in SNAP accumulate about 25% ($1,400) less in medical care costs in a year than non-participants. The results are greater for adults with chronic illnesses like hypertension (about $2,700 less) and coronary heart disease (over $4,100 less). Researchers also discovered that elderly SNAP participants are 23% less likely to live in a nursing home and 4% less likely to be hospitalized in the year after enrolling in SNAP than non-participants.
This summary of research presented by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities is significant because it confirms the impact that social services and community partners have on at-risk populations. It’s evident that food insecurity is strongly linked to adverse health outcomes and healthcare costs. Connecting patients with programs that address food insecurity could considerably improve health, reduce health inequity, and lower costs. But many individuals and families are often unaware that programs like SNAP exist and healthcare organizations struggle to connect at-risk patients to social services that can help alleviate these problems outside of the clinical setting.
Healthify can help. We deliver a leading solution that empowers organizations to find community services for their patients, track social needs across their population, and coordinate care with community-based services. As a partner to health plans, social service agencies, and provider networks working with Medicaid and Medicare members, Healthify enables integrated care to fulfill the promise of a value-based healthcare system and healthy communities.
At Healthify we believe that no one’s health should be hindered by their need. If you’re a healthcare provider interested in how to connect your patients with social services, we’d love to talk. Connect with us here.