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Food, Movement, and You

Utah Center for Community Nutrition (UCCN)


Food, Movement, & You is a free diabetes prevention and nutrition education program for families facing homelessness across the Salt Lake Valley. Research shows that a majority of people experiencing homelessness have low food security. This means they lack consistent access to required amounts of nutritionally adequate food. High rates of diet-related chronic diseases are also common in people experiencing homelessness. To address these issues, we partner with local organizations and homeless service providers to try to increase access to health foods and decreasing barriers to healthy eating. We work on multiple fronts to address health inequities for those experiencing homelessness, including: 

  • Developing diabetes prevention and nutrition education curricula focusing on healthy eating habits and mindful eating
  • Developing substance use- and misuse-specific diabetes and nutrition education curricula
  • Working to directly provide nutritious food to emergency pantries
  • Addressing transportation barriers to grocery stores and emergency pantries
  • Running on-site gardening clubs to assist adults and youth with learning to grow, prepare, and eat nutritious foods

As part of the University’s Driving Out Diabetes Initiative Food, Movement, & You (FMU) was created to provide free diabetes prevention and nutrition education for families facing homelessness across the Salt Lake Valley. Through these efforts we seek to decrease health inequities while improving health outcomes for families experiencing homelessness and housing insecurity within our local communities.

Our program aims to provide families experiencing homelessness opportunities to:

  1. Increase access to nutrient-dense foods,
  2. Enhance knowledge of the role diet plays in health,
  3. Learn how to produce, prepare, and consume healthy foods, and
  4. Increase physical activity, or “movement.”

Social Determinants of Health

According to the U.S. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion’s Healthy People 2030, Social Determinants of Health (SDOH) are “conditions in the places where people are born, live, learn, work, play, worship, and age that affect a wide range of health functioning, and quality of life outcomes and risks.” SDOH impact individuals’ and communities’ health, well-being, health outcomes, as well as health disparities and inequities.

  • Economic Stability, as food security and hunger are key components of this domain;
  • Neighborhood and Built Environment, including increasing direct access to healthy foods and to get to grocery stores and emergency food pantries; as well as,
  • Social and Community Context, including increasing levels of health literacy, which is the ability to find, understand, and use both information and services to inform health-related decisions and actions.

Why do we work with families experiencing homelessness?

Causes for entry into experiences of homelessness vary and may include a singular cataclysmic event of complex, multifaceted elements that intersect with systemic, interpersonal, and individual factors. Homelessness is also experienced in varying durations. Some people experience a lack of stable housing for a short period of time and only once, while others may face chronic homelessness that lasts for years.

Whatever the reasons for entry into housing insecurity and/or homelessness, research demonstrates that individuals and families who experience homelessness struggle to meet their basic survival needs. Those experiencing homelessness face disproportionately high rates of adverse health issues in comparison to the general population. This is due in part because they commonly: 

  • lack access to health care,
  • have increased access to energy-dense (high in calories), yet nutrient-deficient (low in vitamins and minerals) foods,
  • have high rates of diet-related chronic diseases, and
  • often experience hunger and malnutrition.

Even when staying in homeless services housing, such as emergency shelters (which are referred to as Homeless Resource Centers in Utah) and transitional housing, research indicates that individuals are families experiencing homelessness often face multiple barriers to healthy eating. In part, this is due to the fact that homeless services are often located in low-income, industrial, or other isolated areas that lack safe access to grocery stores and other providers of healthy food options. Research has shown that children living within homeless service systems are negatively impacted by a variety of additional factors, which can increase a child's levels of hunger while decreasing their sense of health. 

A majority of families experiencing homelessness have low food security, also known as food insecurity. Food insecurity is the limited or uncertain availability of adequate, safe, and/or socially acceptable foods, whether due to lack of money or other resources. Disparities also impact risks for food insecurity as there are increased rates for certain racial/ethnic groups, disability statuses, ages, geographic locations, as well as those who have barriers to suitable modes of transportation. 

Further, rates of food insecurity are higher for those living in "households" with/where:

  • incomes near or below the Federal poverty line;
  • all households with children, and particularly, households with children headed by a single parent;
  • they are renters;
  • they have lower educational attainment;
  • those who live alone; and
  • African American- and Hispanic-headed households.

Unfortunately, those who experience food insecurity are at higher risk for negative health outcomes, including chronic diseases, such as:

  • obesity,
  • diabetes,
  • cancer,
  • cardiovascular disease, and
  • poor mental health.

What does food insecurity look like in Salt Lake County?

Areas that lack access to healthy food options, are often referred to as "food deserts." Conversely, areas with high rates of unhealthy food options, such as fast-food restaurants and convenience stores, while lacking healthier options are sometimes referred to as "food swamps."

The maps below are taken from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Economic Research Service's Food Access Research Atlas. While they formerly used term "food desert," the USDA now determines measures food security levels by census tract-level data according to the income levels and food accessibility. (The Food Environmental Atlas gives an overview of areas' "food environments.")

  • Green indicates an area that is low-income (LI), and has low-access (LA) to food, as the majority of residents are at least one mile from a grocery store.
  • Orange indicates an area that is low-income (LI), and has low-access (LA) to food, as they are at least half-of-a-mile from a grocery store.

What does food insecurity look like for families residing at the state's Family Resource Center?

FMU Midvale Family Resource Center Map
The Road Home's Midvale Family Resource Center is located with a green zone, meaning it is a low (LI) area, where the majority of residents are at least one mile from a grocery store.

Due to the fact that people experiencing homelessness generally lack access to nutrient-dense (high in vitamins and minerals) foods while having increased access to energy-dense (high in calories), many experience hunger, malnutrition, and obesity. This latter phenomenon is known as the "hunger-obesity paradox," and is unfortunately not unique to people who experience homelessness, though it can compound negative health outcomes for those who are unstably housed.

As shown in the maps above and to the left, food insecurity is often experienced even by families staying within our local homeless services system. Utilizing a validated survey tool, our research found that for families residing at the Family Resource Center, which also measured their food security levels in the twelve months preceding their stay at the Resource Center:

  • 95% of families had low food security, with
    • 56% experiencing "very low" food security, and
    • 39% experiencing "low" food security;
  • 86% used the on-site emergency pantry; and,
  • Lack of transportation was the number one barrier to accessing food.

To show you what it looks like to lack access to nutrient-dense (high in vitamins and minerals) foods while having increased access to energy-dense foods (high in calories), and how the hunger-obesity paradox might occur, below are photographs we have taken of the types of foods often donated by well-meaning members of the public to our local emergency Family Homeless Resource Center.

FMU Poundcake
SLC Food Pantry, pound cake
FMU Donut
SLC Food Pantry Donuts

Foods donated to emergency food pantries, such as donuts, cakes, and pastries, tend to be energy-dense yet nutrient-deficient. These photos show donuts at the in-take desk and pound cakes in the "perishable produce" fridge in the on-site emergency food pantry. 

How can you assist in helping children and youth experiencing homelessness get nutritious foods? Lean more by downloading the free guidelines for providing health donations to local pantries: 

To learn more about preparing healthy foods from pantry-based staples, download our free recipes booklet:

Addressing SDOH for Families Experiencing Homelessness

Nutrition classes and food access are now key aspects of individual and family wellness as part of Utah's new Homeless Resource Center Model, which connects people experiencing homelessness with community resources. Currently, FMU is the exclusive diabetes prevention and nutrition education provider for families experiencing homelessness in the Salt Lake Valley. 

With a keen awareness that many families facing homelessness may have experienced, and may continue to experience, highly distressing events, we use trauma-informed and person-centered perspectives to try to ensure safe, respectful, and welcoming environments for our participants. We designed our mindfulness-oriented curriculum as an evidence-based diabetes prevention and nutrition education course aimed at cultivating healthy habits while addressing the unique needs of those experiencing homelessness. 

Our program has provided free classes at local Homeless Resource Centers, addiction treatment facilities for mothers, emergency shelters for survivors of domestic violence, and housing complexes for those transitioning out of homelessness and into stable housing. Each participating family receives a free copy of our curriculum workbook and is invited to attend the program as many times as they would like. 

Alongside the on-site classes we provide, we work on multiple fronts to address health inequities and improve food access for those facing homelessness, as well as those transitioning back into housing. Our goal is to cultivate peoples' autonomy in food choices by ensuring they actually have healthy options to choose from, as studies show thing is generally not the case for those who experience homelessness.

Additional Community Engagement

While we focus primarily on our diabetes prevention and nutrition education classes, we engage in a variety of additional efforts that support healthy eating and habits throughout our local underserved communities. Some of our additional activities include:

  • Documenting shelters' food environments and working with staff to create evidence-based recommendations and guidance for the public on the need for donating healthy foods
  • Assessing emergency pantries operations and working with staff to use evidence-based methods to improve processes and offerings
  • Working with the University's student Food Recovery Network to divert edible food from campus kitchens to local shelters instead of landfills
  • Collaborating with Waste Less Solutions to provide opportunities for community members to assist in diverting edible food from restaurants, catered events, and local gardeners to local community service organizations
  • Facilitating grocery store tours with tips on shopping and healthy eating on a budget
  • Providing healthy recipes that feature shelf-stable foods available in emergency pantries and fresh produce available through donation
  • Hosting Lunch and Lean sessions for Resource Center staff and administrators to provide them with general nutrition and diabetes prevention information
  • Overseeing a residential garden club in conjunction with women from Wasatch Community Gardens' Green Phoenix Farm, at a local permanent supportive housing facility for individuals and families who were previously homeless to provide opportunities for residents to learn about and grow nutritious food


Garden blurb
  • Delivering Grade-A organic produce donations grown and harvested at the Green Phoenix Farm to emergency food pantries at local homeless service housing facilities and Homeless Resource Centers
Vegetables blurb 3
  • Addressing infrastructure limitations by increasing food storage, kitchen equipment, and refrigeration options at Homeless Resource Centers
  • Participating in UTA's Low Income Transit Pass Program to provide families experiencing homelessness and food insecurity free passes to use public transit to access food

Partnering Organizations

If you are interested in learning more about our programming, please contact Project Lead, Shannon Jones, at

Funders and Donors

Additional Resources: Give or Get Help

If you or someone you know needs immediate shelter, call 801-990-9999 to be connected with an intake specialist.

If you are a person in need of assistance related to domestic violence, you can contact any of the following resources: 

If you are a woman in crisis, you can also contact the YWCA's Women in Jeopardy Crisis Shelter, 24-Hour Crisis Line 801-537-8600 or Toll-Free at 855-992-2752.

To receive other assistance, or to learn how you can support efforts that assist community members experiencing homelessness, see the list below: