Made worse during pandemic

Food insecurity remains a significant public health concern in Los Angeles County and appears to have gotten worse during the COVID-19 pandemic, with communities of color being hit hardest, according to a new report from the county health department.

The report—titled “Food Insecurity in Los Angeles County/Before and During the COVID-19 Pandemic”—examines a wide range of data from 2018 through 2020.

The county was hit particularly hard economically during the crisis, with the unemployment rate increasing to 19.4 percent in June 2020, compared to 14.9 percent in the state and 11.1 percent nationally.

“The loss of jobs and associated income contributed to increased levels of food insecurity and deepened existing racial and economic inequities caused by a reduced access to healthy food,” the report says.

The report also notes that, while food insecurity—as having limited or uncertain access to enough affordable and nutritious food to live an active, healthy life—was trending downward prior to 2020, “deep racial and economic disparities in access to and affordability of healthy food persisted.”

Among the data highlighted in the report for 2020:

— 34 percent of all households in L.A. County, across all income groups, experienced food insecurity at some point between April and December;

— Latinos experienced the highest rate of food insecurity (40 percent), followed by African-Americans (39 percent), Asians (28 percent), and Non-Hispanic Whites (21 percent);

— Between 14.7 percent and 26.7 percent of L.A. County households were likely to be eligible for CalFresh but were not enrolled in the program as of July.

— People who experienced food insecurity were almost twice as likely to have been infected with COVID-19 (11.6 percent) as those who were food secure (6.4 percent).

“Food insecurity is a serious public health problem as food-insecure individuals face barriers to consuming healthy food, and, due to excess intake of calories, saturated fats, salt, and added sugars, are at increased risk for many diet-related chronic conditions,” the report stated. “In addition, when food insecurity occurs during childhood, it is associated with delayed development, inability to concentrate in school and thus, diminished academic performance, anxiety and depression, and early-onset obesity.”

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