Study: Increased food benefits for poor could reduce ER visits

Feb. 1 (UPI) — A University of Missouri study has found that an increase in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits can reduce emergency room visits for hypoglycemia.

SNAP, formerly known as the Food Stamp Program, reduced the incidence of extreme poverty by 13.2 percent and childhood poverty by 15.5 percent between 2000 and 2009.

In 2014, SNAP provided $70 billion in nutrition support benefits to 46.5 million families and children in 22.7 million American households.

The study found that not only does SNAP improve poverty levels but may reduce the incidence of ER visits due to hypoglycemia, low blood sugar.

“According to prior research, the average medical costs associated with hypoglycemia requiring medical treatment was $1,186 per ER visit with costs often paid by Medicaid for individuals in extreme poverty,” Colleen Heflin, professor of public affairs at the University of Missouri at Columbia, said in a press release. “Public safety net programs do not operate in silos; health cannot be addressed without attending to proper nutrition. Understanding how programs interact can improve policy programs while controlling costs.”

Heflin and her team compared data from the Missouri SNAP and Medicaid programs to determine the benefit of SNAP and the timing of ER claims by analyzing the link between receipt of SNAP benefits and healthcare utilization.

The results showed a strong link between the size of SNAP benefits and the number of ER visits for hypoglycemia, and that an increase of $100 in SNAP benefits decreased the likelihood of ER visits by 13 percent.

“This research suggests more generous SNAP benefits could help low-income families manage their household budgets,” Leslie Hodges, a Ph.D. candidate in the Truman School of Public Affairs and co-author of the study, said in a press release. “The SNAP program could help families avoid fluctuations in the quality and quantity of food that might result in low blood sugar severe enough to require treatment at the ER.”

Peter Mueser, professor of economics in the College of Arts and Science at the University of Missouri, also co-authored the study, which was published in Public Health Nutrition.


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