Report Says Food Insecurity Costs the Healthcare System $160 Billion a Year

Bread For the World calculated the cost of malnutrition-related disease in the U.S.

It may be impossible to put a price on human wellness, but food advocacy group Bread For The World (BFTW) just gave it a shot—and described our nation’s hunger crisis as a $160 billion problem.

For its 2016 hunger report, “The Nourishing Effect,” the institute commissioned an analysis from John Cook, a professor of pediatrics at Boston University School of Medicine, and Boston-based Children’s Health Watch.

The report, which tallied the money spent on healthcare as a result of malnutrition in 2015, found that food- and nutrition-related conditions cost the healthcare system $160 billion a year—more than a third of the government’s annual deficit. The report also emphasizes the increasingly clear role nutrition plays in the development of common chronic diseases, from obesity to high blood pressure. Eighty-six percent of our nation’s healthcare costs can be attributed to chronic illnesses like these, according to the CDC, leading to one of the highest per-capita healthcare costs in the developed word.

The Nourishing Effect also found that at least 50 million people (roughly one out of every six Americans) live in sustained food insecurity, which BFTW defines as simply not having enough food on a daily basis.

BFTW Director Asma Lateef said in a statement that these findings should encourage U.S. policy makers to allocate adequate funding to preventive health and nutrition programs:

“The old adage that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure has never been more appropriate. Investments in federal nutrition programs are critical and much more needs to be done to ensure that vulnerable and underserved communities have access to healthy foods.”