Pain-driven emergency department visits and food insecurity: a cross-sectional study linking Canadian survey and health administrative data
Authors: Fei Men, Marcelo Urquia, and Valerie Tarasuk
Background: As the leading cause of emergency department visits in Canada, pain disproportionately affects socioeconomically disadvantaged populations. We examine the association between household food insecurity and individuals’ pain-driven emergency department visits. Methods: We designed a cross-sectional study linking the Canadian Community Health Survey 2005-2017 to the National Ambulatory Care Reporting System 2003-2017. Food insecurity was measured using a validated questionnaire. We excluded individuals with missing food insecurity status, individuals younger than 12 years and jurisdiction-years with partial emergency department records. We assessed emergency department visits driven by pain at different sites (migraine, other headaches, chest-throat pain, abdomen-pelvis pain, dorsalgia, joint pain, limb pain, other pain) and their characteristics (frequency, cause, acuity and time of emergency department visit) in Ontario and Alberta. We adjusted for sociodemographic characteristics, lifestyle and prior non-pain-driven emergency department visits in the models. Results: The sample contained 212 300 individuals aged 12 years and older. Compared with food-secure individuals, marginally, moderately and severely food-insecure people had 1.42 (95% confidence interval [CI] 1.20-1.68), 1.64 (95% CI 1.37-1.96) and 1.99 (95% CI 1.61-2.46) times higher adjusted incidence rates of pain-driven emergency department visits, respectively. The association was similar across sexes and significant among adults but not adolescents. Food insecurity was further associated with site-specific pain, with severely food-insecure individuals having significantly higher pain incidence than food-secure individuals. Severe food insecurity predicted more frequent, multicause, high-acuity and after-hours emergency department visits. Interpretation: Household food insecurity status is significantly associated with pain-driven emergency department visits in the Canadian population. Policies targeting food insecurity may reduce pain and emergency department utilization.
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