People with inadequate access to food more likely to die prematurely, says study

A new study, published in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal) has revealed that people who face food insecurity (i.e. inadequate access to food because of financial constraints) are 10% to 37% more likely to die prematurely from any cause other than cancer compared to food-secure people.

The lead author of the study, Dr. Fei Men, a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of Professor Valerie Tarasuk at the University of Toronto, said: "Among adults who died prematurely, those experiencing severe food insecurity died at an age 9 years earlier than their food-secure counterparts."

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Based on the Canadian Community Health Survey 2005-2017, the researchers analysed data of more than half a million (510 010) adults in Canada and categorized people as food secure, or marginally, moderately or severely food insecure. The researchers said that 25,460 people had died prematurely by the end of the study period. Out of them, people who were severely food-insecure died nine years younger than their food-secure counterparts (59.5 years old versus 68.9 years).

The researchers explained that the average life expectancy in Canada in 2008-2014 was 82 years. So, the deaths at or before that age were considered premature by the researchers in the study.

Premature death

The researchers found that people who were extremely food-insecure were more likely to die prematurely than their food-secure counterparts for all causes except cancer. Premature death by infectious-parasitic diseases, unintentional injuries and suicides was more than twice as likely for those experiencing severe versus no food insecurity.

Earlier, there have been a number of studies that examined the relation between inadequate food and death. But none of those studied the causes of death.

The study authors said: "The significant correlations of all levels of food insecurity with potentially avoidable deaths imply that food-insecure adults benefit less from public health efforts to prevent and treat diseases and injuries than their food-secure counterparts."

The researchers suggest that the policies to address food insecurity have the potential to reduce premature death. "The markedly higher mortality hazard of severe food insecurity highlights the importance of policy interventions that protect households from extreme deprivation. In Canada, policies that improve the material resources of low-income households have been shown to strengthen food security and health," said Dr. Men.