Food poverty taking its toll on long-term health
● Lack of nutrition adds to woes of people living with conditions
Anew study has revealed food poverty’s growing impact on the long-term health of Scots.
Research has found the majority of people forced to turn to foodbanks and pantries for emergency supplies live with three or more debilitating health conditions.
And the impact of their struggles to secure enough food for themselves and their families is said to worsen those conditions as well as damage their mental health.
It has led academics to call upon health professionals, such as GPs, to give increasing attention to “economic vulnerability” as a potential health risk.
Flora Douglas, from Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, is the principal investigator for the study, which was undertaken in conjunction with Community Food Initiatives North East (CFINE).
She said: “People’s capability to self-care is being undermined by food insecurity in Scotland.
“The individuals we interviewed have in-depth knowledge of the diet they need to follow. They just couldn’t afford to do so, even if they were in work.
“Most of our participants reported eating just one meal per day or going for several days without food, opting instead to put food on the table for their dependents or to pay bills.
“This food scarcity was commonly associated by the participants with causing low mood or mental health challenges.”
More than two million people in Scotland live with one or more long-term health conditions.
The most recent 2017 Scottish Health Survey found that 18% of people living with limiting longstanding illnesses were also living with food insecurity. Poor nutrition, mixed with poor health and
the potential side-effects of medication, can have a detrimental impact on long-term conditions.
Side-effects of multiple medications can become stronger with poor diet, leading to people diluting their prescriptions – worsening their condition and increasing healthcare costs.
Development work manager for CFINE, Dave Kilgour, said: “Foodbanks and pantries, which receive generous but unpredictable food stock from external sources, cannot guarantee the right and sustainable nutrition for people on multiple medications for long-term illnesses.
“We hope that this research develops the conversation we need to have as a society so that everyone, no matter their background, has access to the right nutrition when they need it most.”
Ms Douglas said: “We’ve also found that economic vulnerability – a risk factor for food insecurity – is not necessarily apparent during a healthcare consultation.
“Health professionals should be alert to the fact that people’s physical appearance, area of residence, or work status is no indication of a patient being food-secure.” People across the northeast who use foodbanks and pantries, aged 26 to 83, were interviewed for the study.
Aberdeen Donside MSP Mark McDonald said: “Given that many individuals who find themselves in food poverty do so as a result of the welfare reform agenda, it is perhaps unsurprising that there is such a strong correlation with those who have long-term health conditions.
“This research sets out the stark impact that this is having on the healthcare system.”
GROWING PROBLEM: Dave Kilgour, development work manager for CFINE, at the organisation’s foodbank.