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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Food insecurity in Greater Vancouver : a mixed methods exploratory study with food bank members Holmes, Eleanor


Background: Household food insecurity (HFI), defined as limited access to adequate, safe, and nutritious food, was estimated to affect 13% of Canadian households in 2012. In Canada, one of the primary efforts to support food insecure households are food banks. Although food bank use is on the rise in Canada, few studies have described the diverse experiences of individuals who use them. This study examined characteristics and experiences of food bank users, including socio-demographic characteristics, severity of HFI, patterns of food bank use, and current challenges and preferences for services. Methods: This mixed-methods study involved interviewer-administered surveys (n=77) and 5 focus groups (n=27) with food bank members from Vancouver, BC. Surveys assessed socio-demographic and health characteristics, food bank use, and satisfaction with services. Focus groups examined experiences, challenges, and recommendations for improving services. Survey analyses included descriptive statistics and Fisher’s exact tests to explore associations with severe HFI. Thematic analysis was used for focus group data. Results: Inadequate income emerged as the most prominent factor influencing food bank use. Survey respondents reported severe food insecurity (66%), health challenges (77%), reliance on social assistance (84%), and long-term (>5 years) food bank use (54%). Monthly income level (<$1800) and rental costs (>$500) were significantly associated with severe HFI (p<0.05), however, frequency and duration of food bank use were not. Although survey and focus group participants indicated that food banks did not provide enough food to meet their needs, participants reported positive experiences at the food bank and most anticipated needing these services in future. Focus group discussions highlighted improving food provision quality and quantity, and creating more safe and supportive environments. Linking with health supports and participating in advocacy towards poverty reduction were also suggested. Significance: Food banks are an entrenched, long-term strategy for households driven by inadequate financial resources to access food. While gratitude for food bank services was apparent, this study supports growing evidence that food banks are an insufficient response to food insecurity. Participant envisioned ways that food bank organisations can adjust to better support their users included updates to current services that incorporate health, wellness, and advocacy.

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