FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — Arkansans were more likely to rely on food pantry services following income loss or the diagnosis of a serious illness, according to a study published recently by researchers at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) Office of Community Health & Research.

The study, “Events Precipitating Arkansas Food Pantry Utilization,” analyzed the events that led to individuals using seven different food pantries in Northwest Arkansas in 2018-2019. Job loss, acute and chronic illness, and fluctuation in the number of people in a household were the most common factors that led to increased pantry use. About three in four of those surveyed had been using food pantries for more than a year.

“I lost my job because of my illness, and we went down to one income, which was $24,000 a year, and we were just trapped,” said one participant in the study. “We had to start doing something. The cupboards were getting bare.”

According to a 2019 Feeding America report, Arkansas has the second-highest rate of food insecurity in the U.S., with one in five Arkansans struggling to provide enough food for their families. In the study, researchers noted the importance of health care and charitable food systems working together to address the unique situations each family faces when confronted with food insecurity.

“Food pantries are a vital resource for anyone struggling to put food on the table, but especially for those who experience unexpected hardships,” said Chris Long, Ph.D., an associate professor with the UAMS Office of Community Health & Research and a lead researcher on the study. “Understanding the situations that bring people to food pantries can better prepare charitable food systems and community organizations to support their clients to get the nutrition they need to live longer, healthier lives.”

The report was published in The Journal of the Arkansas Medical Society, which can be found here.