Nearly half of a group of homeless and formerly homeless veterans reported experiencing food insecurity, according to VA researchers. More than one-quarter of those said they’d averaged only 1 meal a day.
Researchers screened 270 new patients who enrolled in 1 of 6 VA primary care clinics. Screening began with a single question: “In the past month, were there times when the food for you just did not last, and there was no money to buy more?” Patients who answered yes were then asked where they got their food, how many meals per day they ate, whether they prepared their meals, whether they received food stamps, whether they had diabetes, and whether they had symptoms of hypoglycemia.
Of the respondents, 63% were living in their own apartment, and 26% were in a transitional housing program where they were responsible for some of their meals. Of the patients who reported food insecurity, 87% prepared their meals, with half relying on food they bought, 23% on food from soup kitchens and food pantries, 15% from shelters, 19% from family and friends. About half (47%) were receiving food stamps.
One-fifth of the patients had diabetes or prediabetes, and 44% reported hypoglycemia symptoms when without food. The researchers point out that the consequences of food insecurity are “significant and potentially life threatening.” They cite another study that found risk for hospital admissions for hypoglycemia rose 27% in the last week of the month among low-income populations, typically when food stamps and supplies at food pantries ran low or were exhausted.
The study revealed that asking about only food insecurity was not enough, the researchers say. “The additional context provided by the follow-up questions and the breadth of different responses underscored that the needs of these patients extend beyond those available from 1 health care provider or 1 health care discipline.”
Both patients and health care providers endorsed the screening program. One staff member, for instance, called the program a good rapport builder. No team found the questions burdensome, the researchers say. In fact,4 teams said the follow-up questions highlighted the complexity of issues underlying food insecurity and the need for a well-integrated, multidisciplinary approach to the problem.