Forget the struggle to eat healthy – millions of Americans struggled to put food on the table at all during the economic downturn.
That's the finding of a new study by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, which estimates that 3.8 million California adults couldn't afford to put adequate food on the table during the recent recession.
That refers to the period between 2007 and 2009, and the findings were particularly pronounced among households with children and low-income Latinos. The report says that in 2009, approximately one in six low-income state residents had "very low food security," meaning folks had to cut their food intake and went hungry.
That's double the 2001 rate of food insecurity. For Los Angeles in particular, there was a 38-percent rate of food insecurity in 2009, which equals more than 1.1 million people. That rate increased steadily between 2007 and 2009.
L.A. County is surrounded by counties with some of the worst food insecurity in the state: Ventura, Orange, San Bernadino and Riverside counties all have rates of more than 40 percent.
The southside's Latino population rests at just under 57 percent, says the L.A. Times' Mapping L.A. Project. More than 40 percent of households in the region make less than $20,000 annually.
The report's authors wrote that adults with food insecurity are "at increased risk of depression and poor mental health, as well as chronic diseases such as diabetes and hypertension." Women, in particular, are more likely to be obese or overweight, and children's academic performance suffers when being able to afford food isn't a given.
The brief also highlights several trends that indicate California's economy was one of the hardest-hit by the recession: State unemployment went from 5.3 percent in 2007 to 11.3 percent in 2009, and between 2009 and 2010, the median household income in the state went down by about 5 percent. Thats the "largest decline on record."
The authors concluded with several suggestions to California's policymakers:
– Increase and simplify participation in federal nutrition programs.
– Strengthen child nutrition programs and increase participation.
– Enact "robust policies" that will raise wages, support working families and maintain income assistance programs.
You can read the full report, titled "Nearly Four Million Californians Are Food Insecure," here.
Photo by Carly Sheil via Flickr Creative Commons.