Food insecurity is a major public health problem linked to adverse health and mental health outcomes across the lifespan. Defined by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization as the lack of availability, accessibility, utilization, and stability of food, food insecurity can be interpreted to not only refer to uncertain or inconsistent access to food, but also to the psychosocial stress experienced by individuals and families who worry about having insufficient resources to provide nutritionally balanced meals to their households. In New York City, the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected the boroughs with the greatest pre-pandemic rates of food insecurity. The estimated number of food insecure New Yorkers in 2021 was approximately 1.4 million people. Current estimates indicate that 16.4% of Bronx residents are now food insecure.
In light of these heightened food insecurity issues during the COVID-19 pandemic, the goal of this study was to determine predictors for food insecurity and childhood hunger among a sample of food pantry recipients in the north Bronx.
The study applies a community-based participatory research approach to identify emerging community needs of Bronx residents during the COVID-19 pandemic. Through a series of meetings with community leaders and service providers in the north Bronx, we identified food insecurity as a community-driven research priority area of inquiry. To determine predictors of food insecurity and childhood hunger in the north Bronx, we conducted a cross-sectional survey of 218 food pantry recipients.
The mean food insecurity score, as measured by the United States Household Food Security Survey Module, was 3.43 (SD=1.08), indicating low food insecurity. In adjusted multiple linear regression models, statistically significant risk factors for food insecurity included: having one or more children and not having insurance. The mean scores for childhood hunger, as measured through the Community Childhood Hunger Identification Project index, was 2.79 (SD=1.71), indicating risk of hunger. Statistically significant protectors against childhood hunger were: Spanish being spoken at home, having a graduate degree, and having health insurance. Experiencing depression symptoms was positively associated with both food insecurity and childhood hunger.
Implications for Social Work Policy and Practice
Our findings indicate that food pantry use was not significantly associated with either food insecurity or childhood hunger. These results demonstrate that even with the receipt of regular food pantry services, many families in the Bronx remain food insecure and have children in threat of hunger. These findings stress the need for increased food assistance for marginalized communities, particularly through policies that will impact residents who are ineligible for benefits through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).