Medicare eligibility linked to more food pantry visits, improved food security: Newsroom

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DALLAS – Sept. 22, 2022 – Low-income seniors were seven times more prone to visit a food pantry within the yr after becoming eligible for Medicare, leading to improved food security, in response to a latest study from UT Southwestern.

Sandi Pruitt, Ph.D.

The findings, published in Applied Economic Perspectives and Policy, were based on data compiled on 543 households that visited Crossroads Community Services, a food pantry in Dallas. Study leaders Sandi Pruitt, Ph.D., Associate Professor within the Peter O’Donnell Jr. School of Public Health, and Tammy Leonard, Ph.D., Professor and Chair of Economics on the University of Dallas, said several aspects can have contributed to the increased food pantry usage.

“Anecdotally, we imagine Medicare eligibility may increase a person’s period of time available to access transportation and to make the visits and stand in lines if needed,” Dr. Pruitt said.

“Moreover, we all know that Medicare eligibility for most individuals also coincides with eligibility for Social Security advantages, and there are numerous services available to assist seniors access these advantages,” said Dr. Leonard, who can be an adjunct professor on the O’Donnell School of Public Health. “Seniors may grow to be aware of other sources of assistance and/or feel a discount in stigmas which may be related to accessing safety net services once they were younger.”

Using a wealthy database of survey and food pantry-visit data from Crossroads Community Services that was developed as a part of the organization’s community partnership with UT Southwestern and the University of Dallas, Dr. Pruitt and colleagues have spent the past decade probing multiple dimensions of food insecurity for community residents. A previous study using these data found that more consistent use of the food pantry led to reduced food insecurity and improved health.

“We now have been working to construct this data set locally to fill a niche within the literature about how food assistance is related to health,” Dr. Pruitt said. “Now we’re starting to grasp the scope of the issue and what we want to do to enhance the health of this really underserved, vulnerable group.”

For this study, first writer Erline Martinez-Miller, Ph.D., who was a postdoctoral fellow at UTSW on the time of the study, began with a hypothesis that food pantry usage would rise as individuals reach age 65. At six-month intervals, she and Dr. Leonard analyzed each the extent of food insecurity and the variety of food pantry visits amongst low-income seniors visiting Crossroads within the two years before and after their sixty fifth birthday.

“Through our surveys, we found a virtually sevenfold rise within the variety of visits per senior household within the yr after Medicare eligibility versus the yr before, and we also found that the prevalence of food insecurity was 15% lower amongst those eligible for Medicare than amongst seniors who weren’t yet eligible,” said Dr. Martinez-Miller. “Coupled together, a rise in visits could possibly be interpreted as an increased capability to enhance household food security.”

What the researchers don’t yet understand is why, after peaking near their sixty fifth birthday, visits began to steadily slow over the subsequent two years. The team suspects that the reply may relate to individuals finding it harder to access services due to health issues and declining functional ability as they age.

Food insecurity is a $700 million annual problem for america when it comes to health care costs alone. Dr. Pruitt hopes this study may help food pantry operators discover key pivot points where they will strongly encourage continued visits for individuals who encounter food insecurity as they weather life’s financial storms.

“It’s so essential that we make certain that food assistance is normalized and destigmatized and folks get what they need, because individuals cannot be contributing members of their families or communities in our society in the event that they haven’t got enough food,” Dr. Pruitt said.

Dr. Pruitt serves on the board of directors of Crossroads Community Services. Her term began after the study data were collected.

About UT Southwestern Medical Center

UT Southwestern, one in all the nation’s premier academic medical centers, integrates pioneering biomedical research with exceptional clinical care and education. The institution’s faculty has received six Nobel Prizes, and includes 26 members of the National Academy of Sciences, 17 members of the National Academy of Medicine, and 14 Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigators. The total-time faculty of greater than 2,900 is answerable for groundbreaking medical advances and is committed to translating science-driven research quickly to latest clinical treatments. UT Southwestern physicians provide care in greater than 80 specialties to greater than 100,000 hospitalized patients, greater than 360,000 emergency room cases, and oversee nearly 4 million outpatient visits a yr.

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