Diabetes Patients with Food Insecurity Have More Than Twice the Rate of Severe Hypoglycemia

Food insecurity is common in the United States, impacting roughly 1 in 8 households. This inability to regularly access nutritious, affordable foods is linked with a variety of health issues, including a higher risk of obesity, heart disease, mental health disorders, and diabetes. A new study also finds that for those with diabetes, it may lead to worse disease outcomes.

New research, recently presented at the annual meeting of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes, investigated severe hypoglycemia (extremely low blood sugar) in food insecure diabetes patients. The data came from the U.S.-based iNPHORM study, in which researchers found that severe hypoglycemia was more than twice as frequent in diabetes patients who had to reduce or skip meals, compared with those who had secure access to food.

View of an empty refrigerator

With food insecurity impacting 12.5% of households in the United States, this could have big health impacts.

Alexandria Ratzki-Leewing, study co-author and professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the University of Western Ontario, says, “Not only does severe hypoglycemia cause dangerous acute symptoms, but it can also set the stage for long-term neurologic and cardiac harm, leading to premature death. Events are further linked to reduced emotional and social well-being.”

The team determined food insecurity levels in the participants by asking them if they’d cut the size of their meals or skipped them altogether in the prior 12 months due to cost issues. All the participants were taking insulin and/or secretagogues and had a median age of 51, with a median diabetes duration of 12 years. In the group that reported cutting back on meals due to cost issues, the rate of severe hypoglycemia was 2.3 times higher than those who did not report the need to skip meals.

Feeding hungry people at soup kitchen

The researchers say as the cost of living continues to rise, this issue could have increasing short- and long-term health impacts for those living with diabetes.

Past research has already shown that the cost of proper diabetes care is out of reach for many with the disease, with about 40% of patients reporting financial struggles due to healthcare costs. This drives many to use crowdfunding sites like GoFundMe to cover care, even if they have insurance. Food is also often difficult to afford, with adults with diabetes found to be 27% more likely to struggle to put food on the table.

Another study found a possible way to tackle this issue: with produce prescription programs for low income earners with diabetes, which was projected to save about $40 billion in medical bills due to lower incidence of cardiovascular disease.

Healthy food being distributed to the hungry

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