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People experiencing food insecurity – a household’s lack of consistent access to adequate food resources – in the United States during the first year of the pandemic were more than twice as likely to give up or delay medical care due to cost concerns compared to food secure households, according to a survey by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Conducted in December 2020, the survey also found that racial and ethnic minority groups and low-income people were significantly more likely to face food insecurity than whites and higher-income people.
The results were published online April 13 in the American Journal of Public Health.
For their study, researchers conducted a nationally representative online survey of 8,481 adults aged 18 and older between December 15 and December 21, 2020. Researchers found that nearly one in five – 18.8% – said they had experienced food insecurity at some point. in the last 30 days. Among the food insecure, nearly 3 in 10 (27.4%) said they had delayed or forgone medical care in the past month.
In addition to delaying any medical care in the past month, food insecure people were also two to three times more likely to have delayed or forgone some types of care in the first nine months of the week. pandemic, including skipping a doctor-recommended treatment or test, not attending a recommended follow-up visit, and not filling a prescription.
The link between food insecurity and forgoing medical treatment is well documented. This study is believed to be the first to investigate this relationship during the pandemic.
“We already know that people who struggle to maintain a healthy diet are at higher risk for many health conditions, including those that can make them more vulnerable to COVID-19,” says Jaclyn Bertoldo, MPH, RDN, author principal of the study. and a Bloomberg American Health Fellow and DrPH student at the Bloomberg School. “Delaying or postponing care could increase the risk of complications from COVID-19 and contribute to widening health disparities during the pandemic and well after it ends.”
The researchers also found that food insecurity disproportionately affected racial and ethnic minority groups and low-income people. Non-Hispanic blacks were almost twice as likely as whites to face food insecurity, and Hispanics more than one and a half times as likely as whites. People who had lost their jobs or more than half of their income due to the pandemic were three and a half times more likely to experience food insecurity.
“Food-insecure people often make difficult trade-offs between food and other basic needs, including health care,” says Julia Wolfson, PhD, study co-lead author and assistant professor at the Bloomberg School Department of International Health. “Policies to offset the cost of food, such as supplementary nutrition assistance benefits or food stamps, are key to providing food-insecure households with the cash they need.”
The authors note the importance of linking SNAP benefits to inflation and adjusting benefit levels more frequently to help low-income families pay the true cost of food. They also add that continuing to expand access to Medicaid and working toward more affordable health insurance and prescription drug prices can also help low-income families avoid having to choose between health care and food. .
This survey was part of the National Pandemic Pulse project, a series of comprehensive surveys conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins University. Started in September 2020, the surveys in the series measure disparities and inequalities in the experience and impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Food insecurity and delayed or abandoned medical care during the COVID-19 pandemic“ was written by Jaclyn Bertoldo, Julia A. Wolfson, Samantha M. Sundermeir, Jeffrey Edwards, Dustin Gibson, Smisha Agarwal and Alain Labrique.
The study was funded by the Johnson & Johnson Foundation as part of the National Pandemic Pulse Project.