WELFARE REFORM: The Health Impact Of Food Stamp Cuts
"[R]ecent cuts in food stamps have triggered an increase in the number of patients who are skipping meals, with a sometimes dramatic negative effect on their health," according to a study published in this week's Journal of the American Medical Association. The researchers, including Dr. Nicole Lurie of the University of Minnesota Medical School, said "routinely skipping meals poses a significant health problem for at-risk groups, particularly diabetics who need to eat regularly to balance their insulin intake," the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports.
Over a two-week period last summer, the research team interviewed 567 patients at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis "about food availability and whether they were, or had been, on the food stamp program." They also interviewed 170 patients "who received insulin at the hospital's pharmacy." Nearly half of the 222 patients "who received food stamps during 1996 had their benefits reduced or eliminated by 1997." Twelve percent "of the overall group of patients reported not having enough food, 13% said they hadn't eaten for an entire day and 14% said they had gone hungry because they couldn't afford food." The researchers also found "that 33% of non-diabetics and 46% of diabetics said they put off paying bills so they could buy food. Of the 103 diabetics who reported insulin reactions, 32 said it was because they couldn't afford food." The study also found that patients "who lost their food stamps were 20% more likely to report going hungry than those who had no changes in their benefits" (Majeski, 4/15). In their article, the authors wrote: "Because physiologic needs such as hunger take precedence over other daily activities, the need to cope with an inadequate food supply could be expected to change health-related behavior and priorities regarding medical problems. Medication adherence and diet compliance might not be a high priority for patients with limited access to an adequate food supply" (Nelson et al, JAMA, 4/15 issue).
Spend And Save
According to Lurie, treating ketoacidosis -- a life threatening condition "that prevents the body from processing any food" often triggered in "diabetics who do not get enough food" and stop taking their insulin -- "costs somewhere between $8,000 and $12,000 -- enough to buy about eight years' worth of food stamps." The study's authors urged "policymakers to consider data in the study when contemplating further reductions in food and nutrition programs" and asked doctors to question "similar patient populations about food adequacy because hunger can have a significant impact on treatment methods and health status for individual patients." Lurie said, "We hope this sends a message to policymakers. Cuts in food stamps may not be benign. There are clear health consequences, and often expensive ones, at least for people with diabetes" (Majeski, 4/15). Click here to view an abstract of the JAMA study.