Date Approved


Graduate Degree Type


Degree Name

Biomedical Sciences (M.H.S.)

Degree Program

Biomedical Sciences

First Advisor

Deborah Lown

Second Advisor

David Zeitler

Third Advisor

Lisa Sisson


Background Homeless individuals comprise about 1% of the American population with 1/3 of this particular population being women. And despite the potential for hunger, the homeless population has a similar prevalence of overweight/obese as other Americans. The Heartside neighborhood of Grand Rapids is a very low-income area of the city, inhabited by the poor and homeless. The Food Access in Michigan Project is studying the relationship between food insecurity and food environments in Michigan.

Objectives The purpose of this study was to determine the characteristics of the diet of homeless women in Heartside. This study examined the level of food insecurity, anthropometrics, and energy, macronutrient and sodium intake of homeless women utilizing soup kitchens and other emergency food shelters in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Subjects: Women utilizing the overnight facilities of Degage Ministries’ Open Door Program were recruited to participate.

Methods Participants’ three 24-hour diet histories were collected in person using the Nutrition Data System for Research (NDSR).

Participants’ demographic characteristics and food security status were collected through a questionnaire. BMI (kg/m2) was calculated from measured heights and weights.

Analysis: Medians ± interquartile ranges were used to describe energy intake, macronutrient intake and sodium intake. Means ± standard deviations were used to describe continuous characteristics and frequencies were used to describe discrete characteristics in this sample.

Results: The majority of the women at the shelter were 50-59 years old (31.3%) and predominantly African American/Black (43.8%). Most of the women had an annual income of less than $10,000 (87.5%) and 62% of the population had low or very low food security. The median (IQR) daily fruit, vegetable, sodium, and calorie intakes for the participants were 0.83 (1.1), 3.1 (1.2), 3,594.1mg (1,094.4) and 2,218.9kcal (1,283.6), respectively. The median portion of calories from carbohydrates was 49.4%, 12.5% from protein, 12.2% from saturated fatty acids, and 38.9% from fat. Over 30% of this population was identified as overweight by their BMI, and another 37% were class III obese.

Conclusion: Homeless women in Grand Rapids, Michigan exhibit low levels of food security and many were overweight or obese. Their diet contained an overabundance of fat, carbohydrates, sodium, and saturated fatty acids and lacked adequate daily fruit and vegetable intake due their probable low access to healthy foods.