What’s on your plate? Researching links between HIV, Health, and Food Security

This article was contributed by Valerie Nicholson, Peer Research Assistant for the Food Security Study.

Fellow Community Members,

My name is Valerie Nicholson and I am working with a peer-based research project presently underway across BC and Canada exploring the impact of food security on people living with HIV/AIDS. I would like to share my experiences with you in the hopes that more people are inspired to get involved with the study.

Why a study on food security?

The first thing people generally ask me is, ‘what is food security?’ and why is it important for people living with HIV/AIDS? For me, being ‘food secure’ means that I have good access to a wide range of nutritious foods that are affordable and safe. Unfortunately, this is not the reality for most people living with HIV/AIDS. Recent studies have even found that over 70% of people living with HIV/AIDS in the province of BC are food insecure and that this has direct negative effects on their HIV-related health. How is this happening?

With support from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), AIDS service organizations and researchers from across Canada have come together to further explore the relationships between food security and HIV. We are gathering this valuable information to help communities advocate for more effective food programs and policy so that people don’t go hungry, aren’t forced to eat bad food and ultimately live healthier and longer lives.

Where is the study taking place?

In BC, this research is being led by ten amazing community partners: AIDS Vancouver, Positive Living North, Positive Living BC, Positive Haven: South Fraser Community Services, Positive Women’s Network, MAT Program: Downtown Community Health Clinic, ANKORS, ASK Wellness Society, AIDS Vancouver Island and the Vancouver Island Persons With AIDS Society. At each organization, peer research assistants like me are conducting surveys with members of the community.

Who can participate?

If you, or someone you know, are HIV+, a resident of BC and over the age of 19, you are welcome to participate. During an interview, we will go through a variety of questions looking at your medical background, social situation and challenges and concerns you may have around obtaining the foods you eat.

Participants have let me know that they have found the interviews to be comfortable and safe – in part because the study is being delivered by peers who relate to the issues and experiences in the survey. In their own words: “Thank you. Finally a HIV+ person working with a HIV+ person in a survey;” “I had been honest with my answers as I felt the trust with a peer.” More importantly, I was, “someone who understood… someone [they knew] from the community.”

Lastly, I want to add that working in a leadership role has given me the chance to learn about myself and others in a new and meaningful way. I think my experience really speaks to the value of peer-based initiatives. If you are interested in participating or know someone else who may be, you can reach the coordinating office at 1.855.806.8230 or 604.569.1748.

Valerie Nicholso



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