No one should have to choose between food and medicine. For many low-income people with chronic illnesses, however, it's a decision far too familiar.

Seth Berkowitz, a doctor at Massachusetts General Hospital, recalls a woman — a mother — who ended up in the hospital with dangerously high blood pressure. The woman had a prescription for a medication to keep her blood pressure down, but she hadn't filled it because it was nearing the end of the school year and her kids' final tests were coming up. Faced with the option of paying for a prescription she needed or making sure her kids weren’t going into their tests hungry, she chose to feed her kids.

This is not an uncommon dilemma. When Berkowitz conducted a study on the subject back in 2014, he discovered that a third of the chronically ill patients he saw couldn't afford both food and medication.


By skipping medications in favor of paying for food, people and families often end up spending more on health care in the long run. Medical emergencies are expensive — even just a ride in an ambulance can cost several thousands of dollars — and skipping regular checkups or other preventive care can lead to more costly problems further down the line.

Seeing firsthand how food insecurity forces people to make tough decisions, Berkowitz began work on a follow-up study.

Does helping people afford food lower their overall medical bills?

According to a new study published in JAMA Internal Medicine by Berkowitz and colleagues, food assistance through the American government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program could help low-income individuals and families save on their medical bills.

SNAP — formerly known as food stamps — is a federal program that gives low-income individuals money to spend on food. The exact implementation varies state by state, but overall about 1 in 7 Americans get help through the program.

Though the program may have started with stamps and paper bills, today funds are distributed through government issued EBT cards like this one. Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.

Berkowitz’s study looked at roughly 4,400 low-income adults, about 40% of whom were on SNAP. When Berkowitz’s team compared how much the average person in each group was spending on health care, they found the SNAP group spent about $1,400 less per year.

For comparison, the average single adult on SNAP receives about $1,500 a year in benefits.

What can we do with this knowledge?

Berkowitz’s study wasn’t able to pinpoint why these savings happen, but they have some ideas. People with SNAP benefits — now better able to feed their families — may be more likely to get their necessary prescriptions and checkups. Being able to afford healthier food might also be a factor.

This market in New York City both accepts SNAP funds and rewards the purchase of fresh fruit and vegetables with vouchers. Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images.

This research is especially timely as America is searching for a way to decrease its massive health care bill.

By understanding how social programs help keep people out of the hospital in the first place, studies like this one can help us understand how to keep spending down.

Not to mention how to make sure moms like Berkowitz’s patient can both feed their kids and fill their prescriptions too.

Believe it or not, there has been a lot of controversy lately about how people cook rice. According to CNN, the "outrage" was a reaction to a clip Malaysian comedian Nigel Ng posted as one of his personas known as Uncle Roger.

It was a hilarious (and harmless) satire about the method chef Hersha Patel used to cook rice on the show BBC Food.


Keep Reading Show less
Photo by Picsea on Unsplash
True

It is said that once you've seen something, you can't unsee it. This is exactly what is happening in America right now. We have collectively watched the pot of racial tension boil over after years of looking the other way, insisting that hot water doesn't exist, pretending not to notice the smoke billowing out from every direction.

Ignoring a problem doesn't make it go away—it prolongs resolution. There's a whole lot of harm to be remedied and damage to be repaired as a result of racial injustice, and it's up to all of us to figure out how to do that. Parents, in particular, are recognizing the importance of raising anti-racist children; if we are unable to completely eradicate racism, maybe the next generation will.

How can parents ensure that the next generation will actively refuse to perpetuate systems and behaviors embedded in racism? The most obvious answer is to model it. Take for example, professional tennis player Serena Williams and her husband, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian.

Keep Reading Show less
Photo by Mahir Uysal on Unsplash

Two years ago, I got off the phone after an interview and cried my eyes out. I'd just spent an hour talking to Tim Ballard, the founder of Operation Underground Railroad, an organization that helps fight child sex trafficking, and I just couldn't take it.

Ballard told me about how the training to go undercover as a child predator nearly broke him. He told me an eerie story of a trafficker who could totally compartmentalize, showing Ballard photos of kids he had for sale, then switching gears to proudly show him a photo of his own daughter on her bicycle, just as any parent would. He told me about how lucrative child trafficking is—how a child can bring in three or four times as much as a female prostitute—and how Americans are the industry's biggest consumers.

Keep Reading Show less

You can put this one in the "win column" for those who believe in equal pay. Leslie Odom Jr. took a stand and was not going to settle for anything other than what was fair.

The Hamilton star, who won a Tony Award for his portrayal of Aaron Burr in the most successful musical in modern history, simply sought a similar wage to white actors who had comparable roles in other musicals. As he explained to Dax Shepard on his podcast Armchair Expert, they did not contact his agent at CAA until after the announcement of the shows filming. When the offer finally came, it was disappointing.


Keep Reading Show less