Food insecurity returns to pre-pandemic levels, but more than 1 in 10 Angelenos are still struggling
One in three Los Angeles County households experienced food insecurity — disruptions in eating because of a lack of money or resources — from April to December 2020.
During the first half of 2021, the ratio fell to more than 1 in 10, according to a new study directed by Public Exchange at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences that analyzed the impact of COVID-19 on food insecurity.
Researchers found adults who remained food insecure in the first half of 2021 are predominantly low-income, women, Latinos and between the ages of 18 and 40.
Just 1 in 4 food-insecure households were receiving CalFresh (food assistance) benefits as of June 2021. More than a third of them live in “food deserts” — low-income areas with poor access to supermarkets and large grocery stores.
New data sources allowed new insights on food insecurity
The research included data provided by two private sector partners: Yelp, the company that connects people with local businesses; and findhelp.org, which provides a free search and referral platform tool to connect people seeking help with local free and reduced-cost programs. The partnerships allowed researchers to better understand resources and challenges for those experiencing food insecurity in real time.
“A lot of food outlets had to temporarily close or reduce their number of customers,” said lead researcher Kayla de la Haye, assistant professor of population and public health sciences at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.
“New sources of data allowed us to identify when and where these closures occurred, as well as neighborhoods with a double burden of food deserts and ‘food assistance deserts,’ meaning no food assistance providers were nearby.”
Private-sector collaboration proves to be a boon
The data from Yelp and findhelp.org deepened researchers’ understanding of food insecurity, leading to important insights:
- 1 in 3 census tracts in the Antelope Valley and South L.A. face the double burden of being food deserts and food assistance deserts.
- 77% of census tracts that are food deserts have no food assistance providers.
- 1 in 3 people experiencing food insecurity had difficulty getting food because they lacked transportation or because food stores were either closed or had limited hours.
“Collaborating with private-sector organizations, such as Yelp and findhelp.org, revolutionizes our ability to analyze time-sensitive information quickly so our research can inform solutions,” de la Haye said.
‘Translational science’ brings research findings to real-world solutions
The report on the findings includes several recommendations for L.A. County:
- Targeted outreach to enroll more food-insecure people in CalFresh.
- Investigate community perspectives by interviewing those impacted by food insecurity.
- Address equitable access to food through urban planning.
- Monitor and invest in fair and resilient food systems by building partnerships with researchers, government, community organizations and private partners before a crisis hits.
USC Dornsife’s Public Exchange spearheaded the study, which was conducted by researchers from the Keck School of Medicine, the USC Dornsife Spatial Sciences Institute and the USC Price School of Public Policy, with collaboration from the Los Angeles County Emergency Food Security Branch.
Based at USC Dornsife, Public Exchange fast-tracks collaborations between academic researchers and the public and private sectors to define, analyze and solve complex problems together.