Original Article

Journal of General Internal Medicine

, Volume 24, Issue 1, pp 14-20

First online:

Food Insecurity is Associated with Incomplete HIV RNA Suppression Among Homeless and Marginally Housed HIV-infected Individuals in San Francisco

  • Sheri D. WeiserAffiliated withPositive Health Program, , San Francisco General Hospital, UCSFCenter for AIDS Prevention Studies, , University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) Email author 
  • , Edward A. FrongilloAffiliated withDepartment of Health Promotion, Education, and Behavior, Arnold School of Public Health, , University of South Carolina
  • , Kathleen RaglandAffiliated withDepartment of General Internal Medicine, , San Francisco General Hospital, UCSF
  • , Robert S. HoggAffiliated withFaculty of Health Sciences, , Simon Fraser UniversityBC Center for Excellence in HIV/AIDS
  • , Elise D. RileyAffiliated withPositive Health Program, , San Francisco General Hospital, UCSF
  • , David R. BangsbergAffiliated withMassachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Harvard Initiative for Global Health

Rent the article at a discount

Rent now

* Final gross prices may vary according to local VAT.

Get Access


Background and Objectives

There is growing international concern that food insecurity may negatively impact antiretroviral (ARV) treatment outcomes, but no studies have directly evaluated the effect of food insecurity on viral load suppression and antiretroviral adherence. We hypothesized that food insecurity would be associated with poor virologic response among homeless and marginally housed HIV-positive ARV-treated patients.


This is a cross-sectional study.

Participants and Setting

Participants were ARV-treated homeless and marginally housed persons receiving adherence monitoring with unannounced pill counts in the Research on Access to Care in the Homeless (REACH) Cohort.


Food insecurity was measured by the Household Food Insecurity Access Scale (HFIAS). The primary outcome was suppression of HIV viral RNA to <50 copies/ml. We used multivariate logistic regression to assess whether food insecurity was associated with viral suppression.


Among 104 participants, 51% were food secure, 24% were mildly or moderately food insecure and 25% were severely food insecure. Severely food insecure participants were less likely to have adherence >=80%. In adjusted analyses, severe food insecurity was associated with a 77% lower odds of viral suppression (95% CI = 0.06–0.82) when controlling for all covariates. In analyses stratified by adherence level, severe food insecurity was associated with an 85% lower odds of viral suppression (95% CI = 0.02–0.99) among those with <=80% adherence and a 66% lower odds among those with >80% adherence (95% CI = 0.06–1.81).


Food insecurity is present in half of the HIV-positive urban poor in San Francisco, one of the best resourced settings for HIV-positive individuals in the United States, and is associated with incomplete viral suppression. These findings suggest that ensuring access to food should be an integral component of public health HIV programs serving impoverished populations.


HIV/AIDS food insecurity homeless HIV viral load suppression adherence San Francisco