San Francisco Chronicle (08.22.12)
HIV patients who have inadequate access to nutritious food are more likely to face hospitalizations and emergency room (ER) visits than those who have enough to eat, according to a recent study. In San Francisco, 56 percent of HIV-positive patients who were homeless or living in substandard housing also were food insecure, defined as regularly unable to obtain enough healthy food.
The 347 food-insecure HIV patients studied had about twice the ER visits or hospitalizations over a given three-month period compared with food-secure patients, University of California—San Francisco (UCSF) researchers found. Food insecurity had a greater association with trips to the hospital than homelessness, drug abuse, depression, and just about any other poverty-associated measure.
Earlier studies in the United States and elsewhere have found food insecurity associated with missed doctors’ appointments, less suppression of HIV, and greater mortality risk.
“I feel like, if we can give antiretroviral medications, why shouldn’t we also be able to write a prescription for food?” said one study author, Dr. Margot Kushel, an associate professor in the UCSF Division of Internal Medicine at San Francisco General Hospital.
More research is needed, such as studying whether food-insecure patients have better health outcomes with more to eat, Kushel and colleagues said.
Only a fifth of participants in the UCSF study took advantage of federal food assistance programs over a one-year period, the study authors noted. They suggested either helping patients sign up for programs or lowering the bar for assistance in order to lessen food insecurity. About 72 percent of participants received some form of food aid.
[PNU editor’s note: The study, “Food Insecurity Is Associated with Greater Acute Care Utilization Among HIV-Infected Homeless and Marginally Housed Individuals in San Francisco,” was published ahead of the print version of the Journal of General Internal Medicine (2012;doi:10.1007/s11606-012-2176-4).]