Hunger hinders antiretroviral therapy adherence

Does food insecurity undermine adherence to antiretroviral therapy? A systematic review.

Singer AW, Weiser SD, McCoy SI. AIDS Behav. 2014 Aug 6. [Epub ahead of print]

A growing body of research has identified food insecurity as a barrier to antiretroviral therapy (ART) adherence. We systematically reviewed and summarized the quantitative literature on food insecurity or food assistance and ART adherence. We identified nineteen analyses from eighteen distinct studies examining food insecurity and ART adherence. Of the thirteen studies that presented an adjusted effect estimate for the relationship between food insecurity and ART adherence, nine found a statistically significant association between food insecurity and sub-optimal ART adherence. Four studies examined the association between food assistance and ART adherence, and three found that ART adherence was significantly better among food assistance recipients than non-recipients. Across diverse populations, food insecurity is an important barrier to ART adherence, and food assistance appears to be a promising intervention strategy to improve ART adherence among persons living with HIV. Additional research is needed to determine the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of food assistance in improving ART adherence and other clinical outcomes among people living with HIV in the era of widespread and long-term treatment.

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Editor’s notes: A number of qualitative studies have found that a lack of food is given as a reason for non-adherence to anti-retroviral therapy (ART). The authors wanted to see if quantitative studies on food security and adherence supported this view. As with many systematic reviews the number of quantitative studies included in the final analysis was small: fourteen. However, the majority of these studies did find an association between the availability of food and adherence. The authors very carefully describe the difference methods used to measure both food security and ART adherence.  These findings show both the wide range of methods used for measurement and definitions of adherence and food security, which made comparisons difficult. So, while the authors did find that food insecurity is a barrier to adherence, they could not say why. Given that food insecurity may be a threat to adherence for the some of the increasing numbers of people starting ART, further research is urgently needed. We need to understand more about the association between food and ART adherence. 

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