Homeless people without enough to eat are more likely to be hospitalized

Feb 03, 2011

Homeless people who do not get enough to eat use hospitals and emergency rooms at very high rates, according to a new study. One in four respondents to a nationwide survey reported not getting enough to eat, a proportion six times higher than in the general population, and more than two thirds of those had recently gone without eating for a whole day. The report will appear in the Journal of General Internal Medicine and has been released online.

"The study is the first to highlight the association between food insufficiency and health care use in a national sample of homeless adults," says lead author Travis P. Baggett, MD, MPH, of the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) General Medicine Division. "Our results suggest a need to better understand and address the social determinants of health and health-care-seeking behavior,"

Baggett and a team of investigators at MGH and the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program analyzed survey data from 966 adult respondents to the 2003 nationwide Health Care for the Homeless User Survey. They found that who did not have enough to eat had a higher risk of being hospitalized in a medical or psychiatric unit than did those with enough to eat and also were more likely to be frequent users of emergency rooms. Neither relationship could be explained by individual differences in illness. Nearly half of the hungry homeless had been hospitalized in the preceding year and close to one-third had used an four or more times in the same year.

Baggett explains the study was sparked by his clinical experience caring for homeless individuals. "Homeless patients with inadequate food may have difficulty managing their health conditions or taking their medications. They may postpone routine health care until the need is urgent and may even use emergency rooms as a source of food. Whether expanding food services for the very poor would ameliorate this problem is uncertain, but it begs further study." Baggett is an instructor in Medicine at Harvard Medical School.

Explore further: With kids in school, parents can work out

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Homeless adults have significant unmet health care needs

May 14, 2010

The vast majority of homeless adults surveyed in a national study had trouble accessing at least one type of needed health care service in the preceding year, according to a study that will appear in the July American Jo ...

Homelessness is not just a housing problem

Dec 23, 2008

The editorial in this month's PLoS Medicine examines how the health needs of the homeless are underrepresented in the medical literature, leading to the failure of health and social systems to address them. At a time when c ...

9 patients made nearly 2,700 ER visits in Texas

Apr 01, 2009

(AP) -- Just nine people accounted for nearly 2,700 of the emergency room visits in the Austin area during the past six years at a cost of $3 million to taxpayers and others, according to a report. The patients went to hospital ...

Recommended for you

With kids in school, parents can work out

10 hours ago

(HealthDay)—Back-to-school time provides an opportunity for parents to develop an exercise plan that fits into the family schedules, an expert suggests.

Obama offers new accommodations on birth control

14 hours ago

The Obama administration will offer a new accommodation to religious nonprofits that object to covering birth control for their employees. The measure allows those groups to notify the government, rather than their insurance ...

Use a rule of thumb to control how much you drink

15 hours ago

Sticking to a general rule of pouring just a half glass of wine limits the likelihood of overconsumption, even for men with a higher body mass index. That's the finding of a new Iowa State and Cornell University ...

User comments : 0