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Step one: update 2007 and 2011 data

In 2011, researchers at Brandeis University published a set of estimates of national-level costs attributable to food insecurity and hunger in 2010. Those estimates comprised an update of an earlier set published in 2007, adjusting for the rise in healthcare costs since then. The costs estimates produced for 2010 ranged from 33 percent to 38 percent higher than the 2007 estimates across these categories.

When the Brandeis study was published in 2011, the Great Recession that had caused the soaring food insecurity numbers had only recently ended. We assumed the numbers would fall as the economy improved. But five years into the recovery, we are still waiting for the improvement in food security we had expected by now.

Health costs of hunger have not stopped rising since the Great Recession

Sustained high hunger rates bring rising costs

Prior to 2008, according to federal government data, the largest number of food insecure people in any single year was 38 million. But every year since 2008, the number of food-insecure people in the country has hovered between 48 and 50 million. There were 49 million in 2012, 49 million in 2013, and 48 million in 2014. Policymakers and the American public seem to share an alarming complacency about this leap—10 or 12 million extra food-insecure people over the previous worst-case scenario.

U.S. policymakers and the public should understand the devastating toll of hunger and food insecurity on people's health, and they also need to know the economic costs. Individual stories of how hunger ravages bodies and souls are sometimes reported in the media, with little apparent effect on the status quo. Policymakers and the public are less likely to hear about the economic costs. We are hopeful that solid research to back up the estimate reported here, $160.7 billion of health-related costs in one year alone, will draw attention.

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