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Study Identifies Hunger as Major Public Health Issue

Children’s HealthWatch/The Greater Boston Food Bank Study Identifies Hunger as Major Public Health Issue Costing Massachusetts $2.4 Billion Annually

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Sandi Goldfarb
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Children’s HealthWatch/The Greater Boston Food Bank Study Identifies Hunger as Major Public Health Issue Costing Massachusetts $2.4 Billion Annually
State and City Officials, Heath Care Experts and Food Bank Clients Help Raise Awareness; Advocate for Policy Reform

BOSTON – FEBRUARY 13, 2018 – Hunger and food insecurity, which can have long-term and damaging effects on the health of both children and adults, costs an estimated $2.4 billion per year, according to the first-of-its-kind, Massachusetts-wide, study, An Avoidable $2.4 Billion Cost, released today at the State House by The Greater Boston Food Bank and Children’s HealthWatch, a program of Boston Medical Center.

“This research clearly demonstrates, for the first time, that not having enough nutritious food to eat both harms the health of our neighbors in need and the economic health of our state,” said Catherine D’Amato, president and CEO of The Greater Boston Food Bank (GBFB), which sponsored the study conducted by Children’s HealthWatch.

In the study, researchers also report that more than nine years after the Great Recession, one out of every 10 households in Massachusetts (about 700,000 people) still lacks the resources necessary to afford enough food for all household members to be healthy.

After undertaking an in-depth analysis of peer-reviewed journals on the association of food insecurity and adverse health conditions, researchers simulated the healthcare and educational costs and lost work time attributable to them, as well as the financial burden these costs place on individuals, families, and health­care payers.

“From our exhaustive research, we know the $2.4 billion figure represents only a conservative estimate of the health-related costs of food insecurity in our state,” said Dr. John Cook, the report’s co-author and Children’s HealthWatch principal investigator. “For many conditions, we didn’t have sufficient data. The total costs of food insecurity on our health system are far greater.”

The study outlines the correlation between hunger and debilitating health issues attributable to food insecurity and their costs. The conditions and their costs fall under seven main areas:

  • Poor General Health $635.4 million
  • Pulmonary Diseases $572.6 million
  • Special Education $520.3 million
  • Type 2 Diabetes $251.1 million
  • Mental Health Conditions $223.3 million
  • Obesity $132.7 million
  • Rheumatology Diseases $76.9 million

“Thanks to this innovative study and the leadership of The Greater Boston Food Bank and Children’s HealthWatch, we finally have a full picture of the costs of hunger and food insecurity,” said Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey. “Addressing these and other social determinants of health will help give everyone in Massachusetts the building blocks of long and healthy lives.”

Given the study’s findings, GBFB and Children’s HealthWatch urge decisive action on the part of the healthcare sector and state and federal policymakers. Among the recommendations:

  • Healthcare providers should screen patients for food insecurity routinely, and insurers should reimburse providers for food-insecurity screening and food intervention costs.
  • Congress should maintain the current funding levels and structure of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
  • Funding of the Massachusetts Emergency Food Assistance Program, which helps support the state’s four food banks, should be increased to $20 million in FY19
  • A common application for MassHealth and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) should be implemented.
  • Massachusetts high-poverty schools should institute breakfast after the bell programs.

“I had been coping with gout and diabetes for quite some time.  A year ago, when one of my gout medications went from $8 a month to $120 a month, I started going to the Catholic Charities food pantry,” said Jean Cast, a Brockton senior living on a fixed income. “When I go there, I get meats and fresh vegetables and fruits, which help me manage my diabetes without medication.”

To learn more and view the full report, please visit www.MACostOfHunger.org

For complete press kit, click here.

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About The Greater Boston Food Bank

The Greater Boston Food Bank (GBFB) is the largest hunger-relief organization in New England and among the largest food banks in the country. GBFB provides the equivalent of 50 million healthy meals annually distributed through its network of 526 member agencies in the 190 cities and towns across Eastern Massachusetts. GBFB operates four direct service programs at more than 70 sites throughout the area. A member of Feeding America, the nation’s food bank network, GBFB serves more than 140,000 people every month in its mission to create a hunger-free Eastern Massachusetts. For more information, visit us at GBFB.org, become a fan on Facebook, follow us on Twitter (@gr8bosfoodbank) and Instagram, or call us at 617.427.5200.

About Children’s HealthWatch

Children’s HealthWatch, headquartered at Boston Medical Center, is a nonpartisan network of pediatricians, public health researchers, and children’s health policy experts committed to improving children’s health in America by collecting data on children from families facing economic hardship at urban hospitals across the country. Their goal is to inform public policies and practices that give all children equal opportunities for healthy, successful lives.

Boston Medical Center

Boston Medical Center is a private, not-for-profit, 567-bed, academic medical center that is the primary teaching affiliate of Boston University School of Medicine. It is the largest and busiest provider of trauma and emergency services in New England. Committed to providing high-quality health care to all, the hospital offers a full spectrum of pediatric and adult care services including primary and family medicine and advanced specialty care with an emphasis on community-based care. Boston Medical Center offers specialized care for complex health problems and is a leading research institution, receiving more than $116 million in sponsored research funding in fiscal year 2017. It is the 15th largest recipient of funding in the U.S. from the National Institutes of Health among independent hospitals. In 1997, BMC founded Boston Medical Center Health Plan, Inc., now one of the top ranked Medicaid MCOs in the country, as a non-profit managed care organization. It does business in Massachusetts as BMC HealthNet Plan and as Well Sense Health Plan in New Hampshire, serving 332,000 people, collectively. Boston Medical Center and Boston University School of Medicine are partners in the Boston HealthNet – 14 community health centers focused on providing exceptional health care to residents of Boston. For more information, please visit http://www.bmc.org.

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