Urges expanded solutions after COVID-19 pandemic exposed inequities in food system
LOS ANGELES, November 30, 2021--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Today, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (Public Health) released a new report showing that while food insecurity in Los Angeles County had trended downward prior to 2020, deep racial and economic disparities in access to and affordability of healthy food persisted. The report also shows that during the COVID-19 pandemic, many households in the county experienced food insecurity, with communities of color hit the hardest. The report includes forward-thinking strategies for reducing food insecurity and improving food equity in Los Angeles County.
Food insecurity – defined as having limited or uncertain access to enough affordable and nutritious food to live an active, healthy life – is a serious public health concern associated with some of the costliest diet-related chronic diseases, including high blood pressure, obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and many forms of cancer. Experiencing food insecurity during childhood can lead to delayed development, diminished academic achievement, anxiety and depression, and early-onset obesity.
Drawing on data from the 2018 Los Angeles County Health Survey (LACHS) and more recent data from the Los Angeles County component of the Understanding Coronavirus in America study conducted by the University of Southern California, highlights of the report include:
Among households in Los Angeles County with incomes less than 300% of the Federal Poverty Level (incomes less than $73,000 a year for a family of four), 26.8% or 516,000 households experienced food insecurity.
Households with children had higher levels of food insecurity (28.1%) than households without children (26.1%).
Among those living in food insecure households, 67.3% were Latino, 13.9% were White, 11.9% were African American, and 6.2% were Asian.
The prevalence of obesity (36.9%), type 2 diabetes (17%), hypertension (30.4%), high cholesterol (30.4%) and depression (23.9%) were higher among adults living in food insecure households than those living in food secure households (29.6%, 11.8%, 24.2%, 25.6% and 8.4%, respectively).
In 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic:
34% of all households in Los Angeles County, including those in all income groups, experienced food insecurity at some point between April and December.
Latinos experienced the highest prevalence of food insecurity (40%), followed by African Americans (39%) Asians (28%), and Non-Hispanic Whites (21%).
Between 14.7% and 26.7% of Los Angeles County households were likely to be eligible for CalFresh but were not enrolled in the program as of July 2020.
Individuals who experienced food insecurity were almost twice as likely to have been infected with COVID-19 (11.6%) as those who were food secure (6.4%).
"The COVID-19 pandemic exposed many of the existing flaws in our food system that prevent access to affordable, healthy, and nutritious food," said Barbara Ferrer, PhD, MPH, MEd, Director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. "While many Los Angeles County residents experienced food insecurity in the past year, low-income communities and communities of color continue to be disproportionately affected on an ongoing basis. We must embrace innovative programs and policies to ensure a more equitable, sustainable and effective food system."
Recommended strategies from the report for reducing food insecurity and improving food equity in Los Angeles County include:
Promoting health equity by understanding and addressing the important relationship between food equity and racial equity.
Shifting the focus from "food security" (having access to sufficient calories or quantities of food) to "nutrition security" (having access to quality and nutritious food).
Identifying and implementing additional innovative strategies to increase participation in proven nutrition assistance programs such as CalFresh and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC).
Investing in food recovery systems throughout Los Angeles County to increase food resources and assure food equity for all.
Leveraging data sharing across county social service programs to increase enrollment in CalFresh and WIC.
Expanding nutrition incentive programs that can help stretch CalFresh and WIC dollars while increasing access to quality food resources for low-income families.
Supporting a social safety net program for individuals who are undocumented and/or from mixed status households.
Engaging the health care sector to expand food insecurity screening and linking patients to nutrition assistance, including produce prescription programs and food distribution efforts throughout Los Angeles County.
The release of the report comes after a virtual Food Day Summit hosted by Public Health that brought together public health professionals, policymakers, community-based organizations, and advocates for food justice to discuss the root causes of food insecurity as well as future directions and promising community-driven strategies to ensure everyone has access to affordable, sustainable, nourishing, and nutritious food.
To view the full report, visit http://ph.lacounty.gov/nut/media/nutrition-physical-activity-resources/LA_County_Food_Insecurity_Report_2021_508Compliant.pdf.
The Department of Public Health is committed to promoting health equity and ensuring optimal health and well-being for all 10 million residents of Los Angeles County. Through a variety of programs, community partnerships and services, Public Health oversees environmental health, disease control, and community and family health. Nationally accredited by the Public Health Accreditation Board, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health comprises nearly 4,500 employees and has an annual budget of $1.2 billion. To learn more about Los Angeles County Public Health, please visit www.publichealth.lacounty.gov, and follow LA County Public Health on social media at twitter.com/lapublichealth, facebook.com/lapublichealth, instagram.com/lapublichealth and youtube.com/lapublichealth.
View source version on businesswire.com: https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20211130005977/en/