UT-Austin pediatrics study to track food insecurity of 50 Latinx Central Texas families

Samantha Greyson

Team AMISTAD, a Department of Pediatrics study, will work individually with families experiencing food insecurity and refer them to local food banks and other resources to help determine the best ways to serve Central Texas families in need.

The study will track 50 families facing food insecurity in the Latinx community in Central Texas and refer them to curated resources over a six-month period, said Keli Hawthorne, director of clinical research in the Department of Pediatrics.
The study was approved late February and will include regular phone calls from doctors, a research coordinator and undergraduate student volunteers to study participants. Team AMISTAD stands for Alimentación, Inseguridad, Servicio, Tratamiento, Asistencia, Desarrollo, biology senior Jose Hurtado said. Hawthorne said "amistad" also means “friendship” in Spanish. 

“We're trying to figure out what are the most successful strategies for helping people reach resources and utilize them,” Hawthorne said. 

During calls from undergraduate volunteers, patients will complete diet screenings, questionnaires and resource referrals based on their specific needs, undergraduate volunteer Hurtado said.
By focusing on each patient and their child individually, Hawthorne said they can provide the families with targeted help.

“It's very overwhelming for patients to just be handed a list of resources, and they don't really know where to start,” Hawthorne said. “That's what we are doing by walking hand in hand with them to figure out what their greatest needs are individually and then tapping into which resources best meet those needs.” 

All 50 patients will have a child under the age of two, Hurtado said. Children under the age of two are more at risk for food insecurity in the household, Hawthorne said. 

Hawthorne said before the COVID-19 pandemic, about 20% of the Central Texas population was food insecure. Now, 50% of the population reports food insecurity, Hawthorne said. The Latinx population in Central Texas was hit harder by the pandemic than other populations, Hawthorne said.

“Because of the data that we collected and seeing the great impact of the pandemic on food insecurity, we decided to do … the AMISTAD study,” Hawthorne said. “Instead of only finding out how many people have food insecurity, the AMISTAD study really takes it to the next level to see how we can help people in our community.”

The study will recruit participants from two Austin CommUnity Care clinics where Dell Medical School pediatricians work. After the pediatricians identify a patient who faces food insecurity, they will ask them to consider participating in the study, Hawthorne said. 

Undergraduate student researchers will provide participants with local resources where they can access food and other needs during regular phone calls to the families, Hurtado said. 

“We've been compiling a list of community resources in the recent area — for example, food banks or churches — to get free food,” Hurtado said. “We're trying to see if we can improve the food insecurity rates with these people.”

Biomedical engineering sophomore Kara Marcantel created surveys for the patients and doctors in the study to fill out. 

“There are surveys that screen for food insecurity … then there's questions regarding anxiety and depression to see if the families are suffering from either of those,” Marcantel said. “There's questions about how COVID(-19) has impacted them.”