Public Health Nutrition

Research Paper

Improving the nutritional status of food-insecure women: first, let them eat what they like

Lynn McIntyrea1 c1, Valerie Tarasuka2 and Tony Jinguang Lia3

a1 Department of Community Health Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, University of Calgary, Heritage Medical Research Building Room G021, 3330 Hospital Drive NW, Calgary, Alberta, Canada, T2N 4N1

a2 Department of Nutritional Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, M5S 1A8

a3 Department of Statistics, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN 47906, USA


Objective To determine the extent to which identified nutrient inadequacies in the dietary intakes of a sample of food-insecure women could be ameliorated by increasing their access to the ‘healthy’ foods they typically eat.

Design Merged datasets of 226 food-insecure women who provided at least three 24-hour dietary intake recalls over the course of a month. Dietary modelling, with energy adjustment for severe food insecurity, explored the effect of adding a serving of the woman's own, and the group's typically chosen, nutrient-rich foods on the estimated prevalence of nutrient inadequacy.

Setting and subjects One study included participants residing in 22 diverse community clusters from the Atlantic Provinces of Canada, and the second study included food bank attendees in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Of the 226 participants, 78% lived alone with their children.

Results While nutritional vulnerability remained after modelling, adding a single serving of either typically chosen ‘healthy’ foods from women's own diets or healthy food choices normative to the population reduced the prevalence of inadequacy by at least half for most nutrients. Correction for energy deficits resulting from severe food insecurity contributed a mean additional 20% improvement in nutrient intakes.

Conclusions Food-insecure women would sustain substantive nutritional gains if they had greater access to their personal healthy food preferences and if the dietary compromises associated with severe food insecurity were abated. Increased resources to access such choices should be a priority.

(Received September 11 2006)

(Accepted January 19 2007)

(Online publication March 15 2007)


c1 Corresponding author: Email