Food Desert Residence Has Limited Impact on Veteran Fecal Microbiome Composition: A U.S. Veteran Microbiome Project Study

Document Type


Publication Date



Social and economic inequities can have a profound impact on human health, particularly on the development and progression of chronic disease. For military veterans, exposure to unique environments and circumstances may further impact their health. There continues to be limited work regarding the influence of mental health within the context of socioeconomic inequities. In this cross-sectional study, we hypothesized that veterans residing in food deserts (e.g., places in which there is a lack of access to sufficient and/or nutritious food) would have decreased gut microbial species (α-diversity), different microbiome community compositions, and poorer quality of diet and mental health compared to non-food desert residents. The fecal microbiome of 342 military veterans was sequenced, and microbiome diversity and community composition were evaluated. Although dietary quality and α-diversity did not significantly differ by food desert status, resident status (food desert versus non-food desert) accounted for a moderate influence on β-diversity (2.4%). Factors such as race and psychiatric diagnoses accounted for greater proportions of β-diversity influence (7% and 10%, respectively). Moreover, more participants with current post-traumatic stress disorder lived in food deserts (P < 0.04), and there were significantly more participants in the non-food desert group diagnosed with substance use disorders (P = 0.002) and current alcohol use disorder (P = 0.04). These findings suggest that living in a food desert, in combination with additional associated risk factors, may influence gut microbial diversity and composition. To increase ecological validity, researchers investigating the influence of inter-related biopsychosocial factors over time may benefit from adopting a life-course perspective.


©2023 The Authors. This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0), which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.

The "Link to Full Text" on this page opens the full article at the publisher website [enhanced HTML]. A PDF of the article is available at that location.

Supplemental materials are available from the article page at the publisher, using the DOI link on this page.

Source Publication