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A Multi-Site Analysis of the Prevalence of Food Insecurity in the United States, before and during the COVID-19 Pandemic

December 17, 2021
American Society of Nutrition

Meredith T Niles, Alyssa W Beavers, Lauren A Clay, Marcelle M Dougan, Giselle A Pignotti, Stephanie Rogus, Mateja R Savoie-Roskos, Rachel E Schattman, Rachel M Zack, Francesco Acciai, Deanne Allegro, Emily H Belarmino, Farryl Bertmann, Erin Biehl, Nick Birk, Jessica Bishop-Royse, Christine Bozlak, Brianna Bradley, Barrett P Brenton, James Buszkiewicz, Brittney N Cavaliere, Young Cho, Eric M Clark

Background: The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic profoundly affected food systems including food security. Understanding how the COVID-19 pandemic impacted food security is important to provide support and identify long-term impacts and needs.

The National Food Access and COVID research Team (NFACT) was formed to assess food security over different US study sites throughout the pandemic, using common instruments and measurements. This study presents results from 18 study sites across 15 states and nationally over the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Methods:A validated survey instrument was developed and implemented in whole or part through an online survey of adults across the sites throughout the first year of the pandemic, representing 22 separate surveys. Sampling methods for each study site were convenience, representative, or high-risk targeted. Food security was measured using the USDA 6-item module. Food security prevalence was analyzed using ANOVA by sampling method to assess statistically significant differences.

Respondents (n = 27,168) indicate higher prevalence of food insecurity (low or very low food security) since the COVID-19 pandemic, compared with before the pandemic. In nearly all study sites, there is a higher prevalence of food insecurity among Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC), households with children, and those with job disruptions. The findings demonstrate lingering food insecurity, with high prevalence over time in sites with repeat cross-sectional surveys. There are no statistically significant differences between convenience and representative surveys, but a statistically higher prevalence of food insecurity among high-risk compared with convenience surveys.

Conclusions: This comprehensive study demonstrates a higher prevalence of food insecurity in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. These impacts were prevalent for certain demographic groups, and most pronounced for surveys targeting high-risk populations. Results especially document the continued high levels of food insecurity, as well as the variability in estimates due to the survey implementation method.