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Health Disparities in Patients With Musculoskeletal Injuries: Food Insecurity Is a Common and Clinically Challenging Problem.

BACKGROUND: Health disparities have important effects on orthopaedic patient populations. Socioeconomic factors and poor nutrition have been shown to be associated with an increased risk of complications such as infection in patients undergoing orthopaedic surgery. Currently, there are limited published data on how food insecurity is associated with medical and surgical complications.

QUESTIONS/PURPOSES: We sought to (1) determine the percentage of patients who experience food insecurity in an orthopaedic trauma clinic at a large Level 1 trauma center, (2) identify demographic and clinical factors associated with food insecurity, and (3) identify whether there are differences in the risk of complications and reoperations between patients who experience food insecurity and patients who are food-secure.

METHODS: This was a cross-sectional study using food insecurity screening surveys, which were obtained at an orthopaedic trauma clinic at our Level 1 trauma center. All patients 18 years and older who were seen for an initial evaluation or follow-up for fracture care between November 2022 and February 2023 were considered for inclusion in this study. For inclusion in this study, the patient had to have surgical treatment of their fracture and have completed at least one food insecurity screening survey. Ninety-eight percent (121 of 123) of patients completed the screening survey during the study period. Data for 21 patients were excluded because of nonoperative treatment of their fracture, nonfracture-related care, impending metastatic fracture care, and patients who had treatment at an outside facility and were transferring their care. This led to a study group of 100 patients with orthopaedic trauma. The mean age was 51 years, and 51% (51 of 100) were men. The mean length of follow-up available for patients in the study was 13 months from the initial clinic visit. Patient demographics, hospital admission data, and outcome data were collected from the electronic medical records. Patients were divided into two cohorts: food-secure versus food-insecure. Patients were propensity score matched for adjusted analysis.

RESULTS: A total of 37% of the patients in this study (37 of 100) screened positive for food insecurity during the study period. Patients with food insecurity were more likely to have a higher BMI than patients with food security (32 kg/m2 compared with 28 kg/m2; p = 0.009), and they were more likely not to have healthcare insurance or to have Medicaid (62% [23 of 37] compared with 30% [19 of 63]; p = 0.003). After propensity matching for age, gender, ethnicity, current substance use, Charleston comorbidity index, employment status, open fracture, and length of stay, food insecurity was associated with a higher percentage of superficial infections (13% [4 of 31] compared with 0% [0 of 31]; p = 0.047). There were no differences between the groups in the risk of reoperation, deep infection, and nonunion.

CONCLUSION: Food insecurity is common among patients who have experienced orthopaedic trauma, and patients who have it may be at increased risk of superficial infections after surgery. Future research in this area should focus on defining these health disparities further and interventions that could address them.

LEVEL OF EVIDENCE: Level III, therapeutic study.

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