To disentangle the relationships among food insecurity, health care utilization, and health care expenditures.
We use national data on 13 465 adults (age ≥ 18) from the 2016 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS), the first year of the food insecurity measures.
We employ two-stage empirical models (probit for any health care use/expenditure, ordinary least squares, and generalized linear models for amount of utilization/expenditure), controlling for demographics, health insurance, poverty status, chronic conditions, and other predictors.
Our results show that the likelihood of any health care expenditure (total, inpatient, emergency department, outpatient, and pharmaceutical) is higher for marginal, low, and very low food secure individuals. Relative to food secure households, very low food secure households are 5.1 percentage points (P < .001) more likely to have any health care expenditure, and have total health care expenditures that are 24.8 percent higher (P = .011). However, once we include chronic conditions in the models (ie, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, emphysema, high cholesterol, cancer, diabetes, arthritis, and asthma), these underlying health conditions mitigate the differences in expenditures by food insecurity status (only the likelihood of any having any health care expenditure for very low food secure households remains statistically significant).
Policy makers and government agencies are focused on addressing deficiencies in social determinants of health and the resulting impacts on health status and health care utilization. Our results indicate that chronic conditions are strongly associated with food insecurity and higher health care spending. Efforts to alleviate food insecurity should consider the dual burden of chronic conditions. Finally, future research can address specific mechanisms underlying the relationships between food security, health, and health care.

© Health Research and Educational Trust.