Researchers surveyed low-income families during COVID-19 pandemic
Food insecurity led to three times the risk of anxiety or depression than losing a job
Risks cut across all races; higher among elderly and families with children
FAYETTEVILLE — Families worried about having enough food during the COVID-19 pandemic are at three times the risk of experiencing anxiety or depression than those that have lost jobs, according to research by three Arkansas agricultural economists.
“Our results suggest that COVID relief should place more focus on food assistance,” said Michael Thomsen, professor in the department of agricultural economics and agribusiness for the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station and the Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences at the University of Arkansas.
The experiment station is the research arm of the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.
Thomsen and his collaborators, Di Fang, assistant professor of agricultural economics and agribusiness in Bumpers College, and Rudy Nayga, Distinguished Professor and holder of the Tyson Chair in Food Policy Economics for the Agricultural Experiment Station and Bumpers College, conducted a survey of low-income Americans during the pandemic. They had more than 2,700 responses to the survey. Their research paper on the topic is available online: http://bit.ly/COVID-FoodHealth.
Fang said 28 percent of low-income families were food insecure before the pandemic. Families with female heads of house were a disproportionate percentage of those. Stay-at-home restrictions and the closing of food stores and restaurants during the COVID-19 pandemic compounded worries about having enough food.
Low-income families have been particularly vulnerable to food insecurity and its contribution to mental health problems during the pandemic, Nayga said. Low-income families often live in “food deserts,” areas with few outlets for fresh foods. This requires longer trips to supermarkets and greater reliance on public transportation, much of which was shut down or operating on reduced schedules during the shutdown.