Food insecurity on the rise in the United States since start of pandemic

(BPT) – Food insecurity, a serious global public health issue, has risen significantly in the United States since the start of the pandemic. Entire families, especially children, are currently experiencing the detrimental effects of this crisis which the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines as “a lack of financial resources for food for all members of the home.”

“Access to affordable healthy food should be the norm for every person but, tragically, we find ourselves in a global crisis that needs our attention with more than 820 million people around the world living in hunger, a crisis that has been compounded by the pandemic,” said Dr. Kent Bradley, Chief Health and Nutrition Officer at Herbalife Nutrition.

In a survey conducted by Herbalife Nutrition, along with Feed the Children, a nonprofit organization focused on alleviating childhood hunger, six in 10 Americans have faced food insecurity at some point in their lives, and of those, 73% experienced it for the first time since the start of the pandemic. The survey included over 9,000 respondents from 21 countries and revealed that globally, the effect of the pandemic on food insecurity was less severe than in the U.S. Of those 9,000 respondents, 2,000 were Americans with an annual household income under $100K.

Of those surveyed, their concern isn’t only for themselves: 58% of respondents globally are parents, and for those who have experienced food insecurity, 88% are worried their child will have lasting health effects as a result of food insecurity during the pandemic. Therefore, 70% are worried their child is not getting all the nutrients they need — as a result of not having access to school meals while they are distance learning.

“In the U.S. one in four children are living in a food insecure household,” said Travis Arnold, President and CEO of Feed the Children. “Many children who are no longer attending childcare centers or in-person school have limited access to school meals — a source of nutritious meals for millions of students across the country.”

Still, even during a normal, in-person school year, school meals aren’t as accessible as some respondents would like. In fact, the survey found that 78% of American respondents believe school meals should be available free of charge — and the same number believe “meal debt” from schools should be eliminated.

However, results found that school meals are only one piece of healthy eating. Sixty percent of global respondents said they struggle to eat a diet that aligns with their country’s national dietary guidelines. Part of the problem might be that respondents are unaware of their country’s national dietary guidelines. In the U.S., 45% of respondents believed the current nutritional guidelines were represented by a pyramid that is out of date.

Current guidelines use a circle, or a “food plate.” But even when shown a photo of the food plate, American respondents (36%) still struggled to identify which section represented each food group. They were most likely to correctly place vegetables (29%) on the food plate, and least likely to correctly identify where fruits belonged (6%).

“Understanding the guidelines for a healthy balanced diet is important and we need, as a human race, to ensure that people all over the world have access to affordable healthy foods,” added Bradley.

American respondents reported other struggles with eating according to their country’s national guidelines, beyond not knowing what those recommendations were. For those respondents, they reported having a harder time storing fresh foods during the pandemic, due to less frequent trips to the grocery store (56%).

That’s in addition to healthy food being too expensive for many to afford (47%), not being sure which foods fall into each of those categories (40%) — and healthy food not being available in their area (34%).

Bradley points out that with a few simple tips, families can improve their healthy eating habits:

  • Get a healthy start – Ensure that children start the day with a balanced breakfast and eat plenty of healthy protein throughout the day for a positive impact on their health.
  • Make food fun – Involve children in the food preparation process by having them play an active role in their nutrition. Examples include preparing the grocery list or cooking together.
  • Eat together – When possible, eat meals as a family and encourage dialogue about the importance of healthy eating. This can help reinforce healthy eating habits for the entire family.

Feed the Children is a partner of Herbalife Nutrition’s “Nutrition for Zero Hunger” initiative, helping find solutions to eradicate world hunger.