According to an article on The Atlantic, low-income Americans are more likely to fall ill because they’re unable to afford to feed themselves.

A new paper published in Health Affairs by Hilary Seligman, Ann Bolger, David Guzman, Andrea López, and Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo found that low-income people are 27% more likely to be hospitalized for hypoglycemia at the end of the month—right before paychecks and benefits come out

The premise is that people struggling to make it paycheck-to-paycheck might run out of money at the end of the month and be forced to cut back on food. For those who have diabetes, this hunger could turn into a more severe health problem: low blood sugar. So we should expect a surge of hypoglycemia cases at the end of each month for low-income people, but not for anybody else.

The researchers also looked into when people go to the hospital for appendicitis, a condition that does not depend on diet. If tight budgets are the problem, there shouldn’t be any end-of-the-month increase for low-income people. The results showed that there wasn’t any such increase. The number of appendicitis cases was flat across the month for both high- and low-income people.

What it means

We have seen how many American consumers continue to struggle financially or are walking the line between making it and financial uncertainty. According to Mintel’s Consumers and the Economic Outlook US February 2013 report, 21% of consumers said their financial situation is tight—that they make ends meet, but only just, and 12% said they’re struggling or in trouble—either in danger of missing payments or have already missed paying bills or loan repayments.

The ways in which these financial struggles impact the lives of consumers are myriad. We’ve seen how rising food prices make it more difficult for low-income households to eat healthily, pay rent, and purchase household and personal care items.

Now, new research shows a related increase in healthcare services needed as a direct result of low-income individuals with particular health issues. What can be done? Changes to benefit systems that give certain beneficiaries the option to receive benefits twice a month to help reduce the need to cut back on food could help. But, brands could also get involved in what can be considered a public health issue.

We’ve seen how doctors are beginning to prescribe produce to patients and how obesity is now defined as a disease. Perhaps businesses can introduce programs that offer reduced prices or other discounts on healthy food items to those consumers who can show they have a medical need for healthier items. Addressing these issues proactively will set an example for businesses across categories that it’s better, and more financially responsible, to prevent health emergencies than search for ways to pay for emergency healthcare services month after month.