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Public Health Nutr. 2014 Jan;17(1):94-112. doi: 10.1017/S1368980013000633. Epub 2013 Apr 8.

Place and food insecurity: a critical review and synthesis of the literature.

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1 Institute of Population Health, University of Ottawa, 1 Stewart Street, Room 302, Ottawa, Ontario K1N 6N5, Canada.
3 Healthy Active Living and Obesity Research, Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.



In some high-income countries, a sizeable proportion of households are estimated to be food insecure. It is well known that food insecurity varies between countries and is strongly tied to household income level. The local environment may be another level of influence, which has been relatively understudied. The present review sought to synthesize and critically appraise the existing literature examining local environmental characteristics in relation to individual/household-level food insecurity in the general population.


A systematic search strategy was used to search MEDLINE, MEDLINE In-process and Other Non-indexed, EMBASE, PsychINFO, Social Services Abstracts and Sociological Abstracts databases for studies examining local place characteristic(s) in relation to self-reported food insecurity.


Studies could be experimental or observational, but had to be published in a peer-reviewed journal in French or English, and involve individuals from developed countries. 'Place' was defined locally, as ranging from the street to the county level.


The target population for the review included non-institutionalized individuals in the general population.


After obtaining full-text articles, eighteen primary studies met the eligibility criteria. Most studies were conducted in the USA and all but one was cross-sectional. Seven of the eleven studies that examined location of residence found that rural living was inversely associated with food insecurity. Mixed results were seen for other place measures such as social capital and distance to food stores.


Studies were heterogeneous and had various limitations that preclude definitive conclusions from being drawn. Recommendations for future research are provided.

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