Food insecurity in the Bay Area rises, leaving lasting impacts on residents

By Daisy Ding

Staff Writer

Food is a basic necessity that provides nutrition and sustains the existence of all human beings; however, the prevalence of food insecurity in the Bay Area has left many struggling to obtain reliable access to sufficient quantities of nutritious food.

Food security, as defined by the USDA, is the “consistent access to enough food for active, healthy living.” The USDA classifies levels of food security/insecurity in four categories, ranging from high food security to very low food security, based on the sufficiency of the quantities of food one has access to in addition to the adequacy of the quality and variety of food one has access to.

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Food security ranges from high food security to very low food security. GRAPHIC CREDIT: Daisy Ding; Adapted from the USDA Economic Research Service.

Across the nation, many are struggling to put nutritious food on the table. In 2018, more than 1 in 10 U.S. households were food insecure at some point during the year, according to the USDA. This problem is reflected in the Bay Area, where 870,000 people are food insecure, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

The lack of access to nutritious foods has many severe impacts. There have been numerous studies  linking hunger to increased susceptibility to chronic illnesses such as diabetes and high blood pressure. Moreover, the American Academy of Pediatrics found that severe hunger is “a significant predictor of chronic illness” in children.

The effects of food insecurity are not limited to physical health: food insecurity has also been linked to increased mental health issues and behavioral issues. One study published in 2014 revealed that the likelihood of an adult struggling with food insecurity to develop depression was three times higher than those not experiencing food insecurity. The study also noted that “a higher prevalence [of depressive symptoms] was observed with worsening food insecurity.”  

In recent years, the national prevalence of food insecurity has been on a decline. However, the issue of food insecurity has been rising in the Bay Area despite strong efforts to combat hunger in the community. The 2018 Food Security Report released by the Food Security Task Force finds many indications that food insecurity in San Francisco is increasing.

The 2018 Food Security Report also notes that food insecurity in San Francisco is most prevalent among low-income households with children, immigrants, those without long-term housing, transitional aged youth or young adults and seniors or citizens with disabilities. 

The causes of the food insecurity in the Bay Area may be attributed to physical inability as well as financial inability to access nutritional food.

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Produce sold in low-income neighborhoods are often lower-quality compared to produce sold in their high-income counterparts. GRAPHIC CREDIT: Lisa Fleming

Physical inabilities to access nutritional food is mostly due to disparities of nutritious food availability between high-income and low-income neighborhoods. According to Food Insecurity in the Bay Area: An Analysis of Disparities of Food Access, a thesis published in 2010, the low-income areas of the same environment type (suburb/urban) had lower quality produce in the aspect of price, variety, and freshness.

Meanwhile, many experts attribute the financial inability to access food to the high housing prices in the Bay Area paired with increasing poverty. The 2018 Food Security Report revealed that in 2018, 27% of San Francisco residents lived below 200% of the federal poverty level. Though the need for support has been high in the Bay Area, the report stated funding for federal nutrition programs are often “insufficient to cover local program costs.” Furthermore, the city also struggles to “adequately expand infrastructure to meet the communities’ needs.”

FEATURED IMAGE (at top of post): Many Bay Area residents don’t have access to healthy foods. PHOTO CREDIT: Daisy Ding

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