Cross-sectional study of food insecurity and medical expenditures by race and ethnicity

Wei Chen Lee, Sherry Lin, Tse Chuan Yang, Hani Serag

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: Food insecurity is a risk factor for morbidity and mortality leading to high medical expenditures, but race/ethnicity was used as adjustments in the literature. The study sought to use race/ethnicity as a key predictor to compare racial differences in associations between food insecurity and expenditures of seven health services among non-institutionalized adults. Design: This cross-sectional study used Medical Expenditure Panel Survey that collects information on food insecurity in 2016 (n=24,179) and 2017 (n=22,539). We examined the association between race/ethnicity and food insecurity status and documented the extent to which impacts of food insecurity on medical expenditures varied by race/ethnicity. We fit multivariable models for each racial group, adjusting for states, age, gender, insurance, and education. Adults older than 18 years were included. Results: The results show that blacks experienced an inter-racial disparity in food insecurity whereas Hispanics experienced intra-racial disparity. A higher percentage of blacks (28.7%) reported at least one type of food insecurity (11.2% of whites). Around 20% of blacks reported being worried about running out of food and the corresponding number is 8.4% among whites. Hispanics reported more food insecurity issues than whites. Moreover, food insecurity is positively associated with expenditures on emergency room utilization (99% increase for other races vs. 51% increase for whites) but is negatively associated with dental care utilization (43% decrease for blacks and 44% for whites). Except for Hispanics, prescription expenditure has the most positive association with food insecurity, and food insecure blacks are the only group that did not significantly use home health. Conclusion: The study expanded our understanding of food insecurity by investigating how it affected seven types of medical expenditures for each of four racial populations. An interdisciplinary effort is needed to enhance the food supply for minorities. Policy interventions to address intra-racial disparities among Hispanics and inter-racial disparities among African Americans are imperative to close the gap.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)794-808
Number of pages15
JournalEthnicity and Health
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2023


  • Blacks
  • Food insecurity
  • Health disparities
  • Hispanics
  • Medical expenditure
  • Other races
  • Whites

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


Dive into the research topics of 'Cross-sectional study of food insecurity and medical expenditures by race and ethnicity'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this