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The association between household food insecurity and healthcare costs among Canadian children


Objective — To examine the relationship between household food insecurity and healthcare costs in children living in Ontario, Canada.

Methods — We conducted a cross-sectional, population-based study using four cycles of the Canadian Community Health Survey (2007–2008, 2009–2010, 2011–2012, 2013–2014) linked with administrative health databases (ICES). We included Ontario children aged 1–17 years with a measure of household food insecurity (Household Food Security Survey Module) over the previous 12 months. Our primary outcome was the direct public-payer healthcare costs per child over the same time period (in Canadian dollars, standardized to year 2020). We used gamma-log–transformed generalized estimating equations accounting for the clustering of children to examine this relationship, and adjusted models for important sociodemographic covariates. As a secondary outcome, we examined healthcare usage of specific services and associated costs (e.g. visits to hospitals, surgeries).

Results — We found that adjusted healthcare costs were higher in children from food-insecure than from food-secure households ($676.79 [95% CI: $535.26, $855.74] vs. $563.98 [$457.00, $695.99], p = 0.047). Compared with children living in food-secure households, those in insecure households more often accessed hospitals, emergency departments, day surgeries, and home care, and used prescription medications. Children from food-secure households had higher usage of non-physician healthcare (e.g. optometry) and family physician rostering services.

Conclusion — Even after adjusting for measurable social determinants of health, household food insecurity was associated with higher public-payer health services costs and utilization among children and youth. Efforts to mitigate food insecurity could lessen child healthcare needs, as well as associated costs to our healthcare systems.



Clemens KK, Le B, Anderson KK, Comeau J, Tarasuk V, Shariff SZ. Can J Public Health. 2023; Aug 23 [Epub ahead of print].

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