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Incorporation of Information-Seeking Behavior Into Food Insecurity Research

      Introduction

      Limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods affects the health of individuals. Because of its association with chronic health conditions, addressing food insecurity may improve health outcomes and decrease health-related costs. This study explores whether and how information seeking as captured by calls made to United Way 2-1-1 can be used to identify food-insecure areas and information deserts—communities with low proportions of residents accessing government food resources but with high rates of 2-1-1 calls for emergency food resources.

      Methods

      Details regarding calls made to United Way of Salt Lake 2-1-1 for emergency food resources between 2014 and 2018 (n=63,221) were analyzed in 2019. Using GIS methods, areas with the highest number of calls for emergency food resources (hot spots) were identified; multinomial logistic regression was used to identify community-level sociodemographic predictors of food insecurity.

      Results

      Areas with a smaller proportion of the population aged <18 years, more female householders, and more African Americans are associated with higher odds of being food-insecure.

      Conclusions

      Patterns of information seeking about emergency food resources suggest that, despite statewide access to federal means-tested food programs, significant food needs remain. This novel approach in food insecurity research can help public health officials and health systems address an important social determinant of health by identifying areas vulnerable to food insecurity. In addition, this work may be useful in benchmarking food needs, information seeking, and replicating analyses where similar data are available.
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