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Dramatic Food Insecurity for BC's HIV-Positive Community

British Columbia's HIV patients far more likely than average to lack access to traditional, healthy food.

People with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) who are food insecure in British Columbia (BC), Canada, often procure food in non-traditional methods and have poor dietary quality, according to a recent cross-sectional study. The study, published on August 3, 2016, on the site PLOS One, was conducted by Aranka Anema, PhD, of the Department of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, in Boston, Massachusetts, and colleagues.

The researchers say that, through this study, they “sought to evaluate the relationship between food insecurity and its sub-components in a community-based sample of people living with HIV across the province of BC.” In order to explore the issue, the researchers used information collected from 262 participants who completed a food security survey and were neither pregnant nor nursing at the time.

Of the 262 participants, 192, or 73% were considered food insecure. Most were anxious about food and reported “feelings of anxiety regarding food sufficiency (70%), food running out (70%), and not being able to afford balanced meals (72%),” said the researchers. Lack of employment, unstable housing, cigarette smoking, drug use, and depression, among other factors, were associated with food insecurity.

The procurement methods most associated with food insecurity were attending a food distribution program or food bank, sold or pawned items to purchase food, and having stolen food in the past 12-months. The researchers report, “The proportion of food insecure people living with HIV in BC is nine times higher than the general population in the province and 20% higher than food insecurity levels reported among HIV-positive homeless and marginally housed individuals in San Francisco.”

The researchers note that the “modest financial incentive given to participants may have increased sampling people who cannot afford sufficient, safe and nutritious food.” However, the high number of participants who were using the services of food distribution programs highlights the need to improve the quality of food available through such programs. “Our study provides essential data to guide evidence-based local programs and policies aimed at preventing and mitigating food insecurity among people living with HIV,” conclude the researchers.