Researchers find strong associations between hunger and poor health

It may come as a surprise that, even after the Great Recession ended in 2009, almost 50 million people in the United States are food insecure — that is, they lack access to adequate food because of limited money or other resources. University of Illinois economist Craig Gundersen and University of Kentucky’s James Ziliak examined recent research on food insecurity and its association with poor health and offer suggestions, including that doctors screen for hunger.

There’s a long list of negative health consequences that are linked to food insecurity, including a lower nutrient intake, which may appear to be an obvious outcome. But there are many other outcomes that aren’t predictable, such as some birth defects, anemia, aggression, anxiety, asthma, behavioral problems, depression, thoughts of suicide, and poor oral health.

Because of these strong associations between hunger and poor health, Gundersen and Ziliak recommend that health care professionals ask their patients some of the same questions used to determine whether someone is food insecure.