Food insecurity doubles rate of severe hypoglycaemia in adults with diabetes

By Editor
5th October 2023
Hypoglycaemia, Research

Severe hypoglycaemia is more than twice as common among adults with diabetes who struggle to afford food, new research presented at EASD has found.

Severe hypoglycaemia occurs when a person’s blood sugar levels fall to such an extent that it can cause loss of consciousness, seizures, coma and, in rare cases, death.

The analysis of data from the US revealed that severe hypoglycaemia was 2.2 times more frequent in people who experienced food insecurity.

Food insecurity is known to influence health but there has been little real-world population-based research into its effect on rates of severe hypoglycaemia.

In the first investigation of its kind, Dr Alexandria Ratzki-Leewing, of Western University, London, Ontario, Canada, and colleagues conducted a secondary analysis of data from the US-wide iNPHORM study: a 12-month prospective panel survey of real-world hypoglycaemia risk.  

Their analysis comprised 1,001 adults (49.6 per cent male) with either type 1 diabetes (16.1 per cent) or type 2 diabetes who were treated, for at least one year, with insulin and/or secretagogues. Participants were on average 51 years old and had a median diabetes duration of 12 years.

Questionnaires at baseline (spring 2020) and over 12 consecutive months captured data on respondents’ characteristics and frequency of severe hypoglycaemia. 

Based on the American Diabetes Association Standards of Care guidelines, severe hypoglycaemia was defined as a Level 3 low blood glucose concentration, regardless of blood glucose value, causing altered mental and/or physical status requiring professional or non-professional aid for recovery.

At baseline, participants were asked this screening question, “Within the past 12 months, did you ever cut the size of your meals or skip meals because there was not enough food?”. Those who answered “yes” were classified as having experienced food insecurity.

Around one in five of the participants said they’d experienced food insecurity; rates were similar in type 1 diabetes (18.6 per cent) and type 2 diabetes (20.4 per cent). Among these individuals, over half experienced at least one Level 3 event in the past year.

The authors performed multivariable regression to determine if food insecurity caused higher rates of severe hypoglycaemia.

Their analysis revealed that, after adjusting for potential confounders (age, annual gross household income, insurance coverage, living arrangements and diabetes type), those who had experienced food insecurity had just over twice as many severe hypoglycaemia events during the year studied as those not exposed to food insecurity.

Dr Ratzki-Leewing said: “This is the first community-based, prospective study to look at the impact of food insecurity on rates of Level 3 (severe) hypoglycaemia in adults in the US with diabetes on insulin and/or secretagogues. 

“We showed that food insecurity is alarmingly common across this population and that it more than doubles the rate of severe hypoglycaemia.

“We recommend clinicians use our screening question and exercise vigilance when managing individuals with food insecurity prescribed insulin or secretagogues. Public health strategies to address food insecurity are also vital to prevent severe hypoglycaemia and its profound consequences. 

“In the short term, severe hypoglycaemia can cause dangerous symptoms (such as seizures and coma) and accidents. It can also lead to impaired awareness of hypoglycaemia (the diminished ability to perceive falling blood glucose levels), which in turn, can increase the risk of future hypoglycaemia events. 

“Long-term, severe hypoglycaemia has been associated with nerve and heart damage, as well as premature mortality. These effects have substantial direct and indirect economic costs.

“Ultimately, our study uncovers a key opportunity to reduce the burden of diabetes-related severe hypoglycaemia, while improving overall health. The results are timely given the rising cost of living, not only in the US but also globally.”

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