Report: 10% of Mass. Households Face Food Insecurity

A new study from Children’s Health Watch – a division of Boston Medical Center – shows that the cost of hunger and food insecurity in Massachusetts totals $2.4 billion a year.

Food insecurity is defined as a household’s limited or uncertain access to adequate food. Children’s Health Watch determined, based on U.S. Department of Agriculture figures, that an average of 10.3% of Massachusetts households experienced food insecurity between 2014 and 2016. Then, using existing research and studies, the researchers tracked the strong correlation between food insecurity and healthcare outcomes relating to inpatient hospital stays, depression, anemia, obesity, among many other conditions. Factoring in other costs, such as lost work time due to depression attributable to food insecurity, Children’s Health Watch reached a total cost to the state of $2.4 billion in 2016. The report’s main researchers were John T. Cook, PhD, MAEd and Ana Poblacion, PhD, MScs.

The study, which was sponsored by The Greater Boston Food Bank, was presented at a State House event last Tuesday. At that event, Kate Walsh, the CEO of Boston Medical Center and MHA’s current board chairwoman, told the State House News Service that BMC regularly asks its patients about their access to healthy food.

"We think of food as medicine," she said.

The study lays out a series of policy recommendations to alleviate the problem, from encouraging providers to regularly screen patients about food insecurity to creating a common application for MassHealth and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to ensure low-income individuals and families applying for health insurance also have access to food assistance.

“If we make a commitment to improving food security across our commonwealth, and follow through with sustained actions, children and their families will become healthier and perform better at school and in their workplace, seniors will be able to remain at home and maintain their well-being, the economy will experience an increase in productivity, and healthcare costs will decrease substantially,” the report concludes.