The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

“Disparities in Household Food Security and Health Status Among Households Using Different Food Provisioning Strategies"

Saturday, January 19, 2013
Grande Ballroom A, B, and C (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Michelle Kaiser, PhD, Assistant Professor, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH

The number of households who are struggling to meet their food needs is at the highest level in 14 years (Nord, et al., 2010).  Increasing food costs may limit food choices, impacting dietary intake and health.   Households use food pantries, rely on social networks, gardening, and subsistence (e.g., hunting) to cope with limited food access. 

The was part of a community food assessment in a mid-size Midwest community with 21.75% below poverty.  The goal of the research was to provide reliable data for policymakers wanting to address health disparities related to food insecurity and food access. 


Trained volunteers conducted 145 surveys in public agencies, the bus depot, and the library.  629 surveys were completed online.  There was an equitable distribution of people between the ages of 18 and 84.  Over 64% did not have kids, 55.6% were married or living with a partner, 6.2% used SNAP, 4.8% were disabled, and 9% had Social Security.  

The six-item USDA Household Food Security Module was used to assess food security status.  Self-reported vegetable and fruit consumption was a continuous variable, while the existence of diet-related diseases (e.g., diabetes) and the use of  food provisioning strategies (e.g., farmers’ market, food pantry, social networks) was dichotomous. 

Chi-square tests and independent samples t-tests were used to look at differences between groups using various food provisioning strategies.  


Food pantry users (x2 =112.73, p=.000) had more very low food secure  than expected.  Farmers’ market (x2 =41.725, p=.000) and garden(x2 =11.022, p=.004) users had a greater number of food secure participants.  Households obtaining food from relatives had a greater number of low food secure (x2 =7.773, p=.021).

Food pantry users consumed less fruit (M=1.33, SD=1.18) and vegetables (M=2.00, SD=1.28) than non-users (M=1.77, SD=1.20; M=2.42, SD=1.26).  Farmers’ market users consumed more fruit  (M=1.81, SD=1.21) and vegetables (M=2.51, SD=1.24) than non-users (M=1.46, SD=1.14; M=1.97, SD=1.24).  CSA users (M=2.86, SD=1.27) consumed more vegetables compared to non-users (M=2.28, SD=1.27). 

Gardeners had less than expected number of people with high blood pressure (x2 =4.807, p=.028).  CSA users has less people with high cholesterol (x2 =5.217, p=.022) and high blood pressure (x2 =4.415 p=.036).  The hunting and fishing users group had more diabetics (x2 =14.058, p=.044).  Pantry users had a more people with diabetes (x2 =28.189, p=.000), high cholesterol (x2 =8.060, p=.005), and high blood pressure (x2 =30.690, p=.000). 


Social workers in a variety of settings need to become aware of the consequences of food insecurity and dietary changes occurring because of food hardships.  Chronic health problems and food insecurity can lead to limited mobility, work impairment, and mental health concerns that impact community viability.   Policymakers need to become informed about the health needs of their community.  Public and private food assistance programs from the local to the national level must consider ways to improve access to affordable, healthy foods to have a greater impact on creating healthier, self-sufficient communities.  This research provides evidence to support the need to address the concerns of vulnerable populations.