Examining the impact of food insecurity during a pandemic
As many as 12.6 million Americans were unemployed in September, but that doesn’t count the millions of workers who had their hours reduced or who faced a pay cut because of the pandemic.
For many people, it’s tough to make ends meet. Now, researchers are looking at how COVID-19 stressors, including food insecurity, are affecting families.
As soon as the sun comes up, cars form a double line in an Orlando church parking lot. It’s free food distribution day in a city where COVID-19 has devastated the tourism industry.
Before the pandemic, the nonprofit One Heart for Women and Children served 3,000 people a month, but now, “We’re helping over 20,000 people with resources, mainly with food,” said Stephanie Bowman, One Heart’s founder.
Georgetown University developmental psychologist Anna Johnson Ph.D. and her colleagues are examining how the pandemic is affecting low-income families and teachers. They found widespread food insecurity, which was linked to worse mental health.
“Relatively high rates of depression and for parents, the depression and food insecurity associated with each other. So higher rates of depression went along with high rates of food insecurity,” she said.
The parents, students and teachers were part of an ongoing study of low-income children in Tulsa, Oklahoma. When the pandemic struck, the children were in first grade. Forty-six percent of the parents reported losing their job or having work hours reduced, 59% reported a decrease in household income, and 49% said they worried their food would run out. In many communities, other safety nets, like meals-to-go are helping families get by.
Forty-seven percent of parents surveyed also reported their child had increased emotional or behavioral problems since the pandemic began.