During the COVID-19 pandemic, food insecurity doubled in the United States; it tripled among households with children.  In response, ASN Journals have been fostering original research studies, reviews, and perspectives to help the nutrition science community better understand the complex bidirectional links between the pandemic and food insecurity.  Moreover, research published in ASN Journals is providing public health professionals and policy makers with the data and tools needed to develop and implement policy to mitigate the pandemic’s effect on food security as well as human health and nutrition in general.

Below are examples from each of the four ASN Journals:

  • A Multi-Site Analysis of the Prevalence of Food Insecurity in the United States, before and during the COVID-19 Pandemic, Current Developments in Nutrition, November 2021
    The National Food Access and COVID Research Team was formed to assess the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on food security across the United States.  In this original research article, Meredith T. Niles et al. present the team’s results culled from 27,168 respondents who participated in 1 of 18 study sites across the United States over the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic.  The compiled results of the studies indicate a higher prevalence of food insecurity since the COVID-19 pandemic compared with before the pandemic.  More specifically, surveys showed that food insecurity increased by 26.9% to 36.9%, depending on the type of survey administered and the study population surveyed.  In nearly all study sites, there was a higher prevalence of food insecurity among Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) as well as households with children and people who experienced job disruptions.  “These findings point to the clear continued need for additional programmatic and policy assistance to provide food insecurity and economic relief even as the pandemic may wane, but longer-term impacts from economic recessions set in.”
  • The Convergence of COVID-19 and Food Insecurity in the US, Advances in Nutrition, September 2020
    “Food insecurity and COVID-19 may exacerbate one another through bidirectional links,” according to Jason M. Nagata et al.  For example, unemployment and reduced hours due to the public health response to COVID-19 were associated with increased food insecurity rates in the general population.  People working in low-wage retail and food service positions, in particular, were most vulnerable to job losses.  Food insecurity, in turn, may lead to micronutrient and macronutrient deficiencies, which can weaken host defense mechanisms and contribute to immunologic decline: “such immunologic decline can increase susceptibility to COVID-19 and morbidity.”  Particularly in the current crisis, the authors urge that “clinicians should be regularly screening patients for food insecurity and supporting them in accessing food resources.”  Moreover, “policymakers should expand legislation to address food insecurity and poverty as part of their efforts to halt the COVID-19 pandemic.”
  • A Conceptual Model for Understanding the Rapid COVID-19–related Increase in Food Insecurity and Its Impact on Health and Healthcare, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, August 2020
    Anna M. Leddy et al. developed a conceptual model to understand the underlying mechanisms through which the COVID-19 pandemic might increase food insecurity and contribute to poor health outcomes both in the short term and in the long term.  The authors set their conceptual model within the framework of pre-existing economic and health disparities, noting that by understanding these disparities, which are largely driven by systemic racism, “we can begin to understand how the economic and public health crises of COVID-19 intersect at the household level, exacerbating existing disparities.”  Based on their model, the authors project that the pandemic-related increase in food insecurity will have downstream effects on chronic health outcomes due to such factors as household stress, unhealthy coping mechanisms, and inflammation.  Ultimately, the authors believe that “the pandemic will exacerbate existing disparities in food insecurity and chronic disease, which will persist after the pandemic.”
  • COVID-19, Food Insecurity, and Migration, The Journal of Nutrition, August 2020
    Research indicates that food insecurity often underlies migration patterns.  Michael D. Smith et al. predicted that COVID-19 would increase food insecurity overall as well as widen disparities in food insecurity both within and across countries.  This, in turn, places pressure on the decision to migrate. “Even as some countries face increased migration,” the authors noted that “others might face problems due to lower, mainly seasonal, migration.”  For example, due to outbreaks, migration decreased in Western European countries where harvesting or planting often requires seasonal workers, often from Eastern Europe.  “Easing immigration and labor-market policies in these countries might reduce the shortage induced by the crisis.”  The authors also forecasted increased domestic migration due to rising food insecurity, pushing poor rural farmers and workers into urban areas in search of work.

Coming soon, a forthcoming blog will explore how diet and nutrition affect COVID-19 morbidity, mortality, and the course of the disease.