Cross-sectional Analysis of Food Insecurity and Frequent Emergency Department Use

Alex Estrella, Joy Scheidell, Maria Khan, Donna Castelblanco, Tod Mijanovich, David C. Lee, Lillian Gelberg, Kelly M. Doran

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


INTRODUCTION: Emergency department (ED) patients have higher than average levels of food insecurity. We examined the association between multiple measures of food insecurity and frequent ED use in a random sample of ED patients. METHODS: We completed survey questionnaires with randomly sampled adult patients from an urban public hospital ED (n = 2,312). We assessed food insecurity using four questions from the United States Department of Agriculture Household Food Security Survey. The primary independent variable was any food insecurity, defined as an affirmative response to any of the four items. Frequent ED use was defined as self-report of ≥4 ED visits in the past year. We examined the relationship between patient food insecurity and frequent ED use using bivariate and multivariable analyses and examined possible mediation by anxiety/depression and overall health status. RESULTS: One-third (30.9%) of study participants reported frequent ED use, and half (50.8%) reported any food insecurity. Prevalence of food insecurity was higher among frequent vs. non-frequent ED users, 62.8% vs 45.4% (P <0.001). After controlling for potential confounders, food insecurity remained significantly associated with frequent ED use (adjusted odds ratio 1.48, 95% confidence interval, 1.20-1.83). This observed association was partially attenuated when anxiety/depression and overall health status were added to models. CONCLUSION: The high observed prevalence of food insecurity suggests that efforts to improve care of ED patients should assess and address this need. Further research is needed to assess whether addressing food insecurity may play an important role in efforts to reduce frequent ED use for some patients.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)911-918
Number of pages8
JournalWestern Journal of Emergency Medicine
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 14 2021


  • Adult
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Emergency Service, Hospital
  • Food Insecurity
  • Food Supply
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • United States/epidemiology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Emergency Medicine


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