Understanding and eliminating minority health disparities in a 21st-century pandemic: A White Paper Collection
Author ORCID Identifier
Janine Jurkowski: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5852-6177
Angela Hackstadt: https://orcid.org/0000-0003-4583-4351
Funding Organization and Award Number
University at Albany School of Public Health
Food is an essential determinant of health; the challenges in meeting nutritional needs for all are complex. Food insecurity involves the availability of enough safe and nutritious food, having access to that food, and being able to effectively utilize that food for household consumption. Availability has to do with the supply chain, which is affected directly by the social and physical environment. Access is related to the social and economic factors that determine individuals and householdsâ€™ socioeconomic opportunities. Utilization has to do with having the ability, storage and tools for food preparation. Food insecurity is a growing social problem with root causes that precede the COVID-19 pandemic and are often beyond the control of individuals. Socioeconomic disadvantages such as concentrated poverty, unemployment, and disabilities are strongly associated with food insecurity, conditions historically much more prevalent in racial/ethnic minorities. Comprehensive assessment of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on prevalence of food insecurity in NYS is difficult due to lack of consistent and continuous surveillance data. However, FeedingNYS.org reported that there was a 50% increase in emergency food distribution through the food banks during the summer of 2020, demonstrating the highest demand for emergency food since the Great Depression. Reduction in food insecurity requires interventions that target food availability and access at neighborhood or regional levels, and address what to do to ensure consumption of healthy food. Households that experience food insecurity may need to make trade-offs between other basic needs and buying nutritionally adequate food. Availability of food at the neighborhood or regional level is often affected by historically racist policies, unfair distribution of food, and food system vulnerabilities. While public health and policy interventions aiming to directly improve access to food, especially healthy food, are crucial, they may not be enough to fundamentally address racial/ethnic disparities in food insecurity. New York State needs to conduct population level surveillance of the availability of and access to food as well as household level hunger and level of food insecurity. This surveillance must consider the effects of race/ethnicity and socioeconomic status as well as city/town and urban/rural differences so that government agencies can target and tailor programs in a way that can address limitations in food access that have the greatest impact on minority communities. The expansion of SNAP and WIC eligibility to more low-income households will help fill some of the gap between eligibility and food security. It is important to expand healthy food access to include culturally appropriate food in areas with concentrated poverty, a history of segregation, and low food access to facilitate the reduction in food insecurity among minority populations. Further, programs should be developed to promote access to and utilization of affordable, healthy, and culturally appropriate foods at food pantries or through SNAP and WIC. Participatory research that engages community members can be particularly useful when developing interventions.
Jurkowski, Janine; Udo, Tomoko; and Hackstadt, Angela. 2021. "Food Insecurity in NY State. Solutions to Address the Multifaceted Problem" Understanding and eliminating minority health disparities in a 21st-century pandemic: A White Paper Collection. University at Albany, SUNY: Scholars Archive.
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