Diabetes study: Being poor makes people hungrier — and sicker

Poor people run out of food at the end of the month. No mystery about it: when you run out of money, you run out of food. Every mother struggling to stretch food stamps knows it, and so does every food shelf manager.

The end of the month brings hunger — and now we have a health journal reporting that the end of the month also brings an increase in diabetes-related hospitalizations. In the academic prose of the article in the Health Affairs journal:

“Risk for hypoglycemia admission increased 27 percent in the last week of the month compared to the first week in the low-income population, but we observed no similar temporal variation in the high-income population. These findings suggest that exhaustion of food budgets might be an important driver of health inequities. Policy solutions to improve stable access to nutrition in low-income populations and raise awareness of the health risks of food insecurity might be warranted.”

The whole article is behind a paywall at the Health Affairs journal, but Susan Perry at MinnPost has a pretty lengthy summary.

What are the policy implications? Well, for starters, health is about more than health care. Health is also about access to food, shelter, and a healthy environment. Adrianna McIntyre at The Incidental Economist blog explains why focusing on health care is not enough:

“Policy wonks have a terrible habit of focusing on insurance and health system design (and here I count myself, because health care financing is the research I find most interesting, so it’s what I write about). This gives short shrift to the “social determinants” of health—upstream factors related to lifestyle, environment, and socioeconomic status—that cannot be corrected by medical interventions. We’re fond of highlighting how much more the United States spends on health services, but an idiosyncrasy that receives less attention is how much less we spend on other social services.”

Yes, we clearly need to provide health care for all, but we also need to ensure that people have enough to eat and a place to live. And in the quest to make all of that harder, Congress failed this week to restore extended unemployment benefits, but roared full steam ahead on a plan to cut food stamps (SNAP) by $9 billion over the next decade. Both moves make matters worse for many of the 33 million people — one in seven U.S. households — living with food insecurity.

According to the Washington Post, the compromise between the Senate’s proposal to cut $3 billion and the House Republicans’ demand to cut almost $40 billion, the Congressional Budget Office says the food stamp (SNAP) cuts would affect at least 800,000 households.

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