Food and Water

Poll: One-third of Americans say pandemic has impacted their access to food 

A single family-sized portion of donated food is seen at an emergency drive-through food and toilet paper distribution hosted by the San Diego Food Bank at Southwestern College near the U.S.-Mexico border, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak

Image: REUTERS/Bing Guan

Michigan State University
Writer , Michigan State University
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  • One-third of Americans say the pandemic has affected their household’s access to food, according to a new poll.
  • Over half of the 31% who said their household had altered access to food, reported fewer financial resources.
  • Those experiencing financial strain reported consuming less food, buying different brands and using government programs such as SNAP.
  • Nearly one-fifth of respondents visited food banks more often.

In a recent poll, one-third of Americans say the pandemic has affected their household’s access to food.

Of the 31% who said their household had altered access to food, over half (53%) reported fewer financial resources. Thirty-seven percent did not feel comfortable shopping at the grocery store and 32% felt their food choices were more limited because they did not have reliable transportation. Nearly one-fifth (17%) visited food banks more often.

“COVID-19 laid bare vulnerabilities that already existed in the food system,” says Sheril Kirshenbaum, co-director of the Michigan State University Food Literacy and Engagement Poll. This eighth wave of the poll sampled 2,002 Americans to explore how COVID-19 has affected food choices and access.

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“Unfortunately, many families already struggling with food insecurity were strained even further as others found themselves at food banks for the first time,” says Kirshenbaum.

results from the survey
One-third of Americans say the pandemic has affected their household’s access to food. Image: Michigan State

Among respondents who said they had fewer financial resources, three-quarters (74%) chose different brands of food. Nearly half (47%) consumed less food and roughly one-third (31%) used government programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.

“The pandemic presented yet another challenge to people obtaining nutritious and affordable diets,” says Doug Buhler, co-director of the poll. “On one hand, we should be pleased that the basic system stayed intact, but the pandemic also exposed vulnerabilities that need to be addressed.”

Among the half of respondents (50%) who reported the pandemic has changed the way they purchase and store food, 51% seek out foods with a long shelf life, 50% store more food at home, and 48% take fewer trips to the grocery store. Of respondents, 27% are more aware of the food they waste, and 23% began using a grocery delivery service.

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The survey also explored whether receiving a COVID-19 vaccine influenced food access and behavior. Among the 69% of respondents who had been vaccinated at the time of the survey, over two-thirds (67%) say they now visit the grocery more frequently than prior to receiving the shot. One-third (33%) spend more time in the grocery store and 29% report they can more easily access and transport groceries. Just 15% stopped wearing masks where it isn’t required.

Data from the MSU Food Literacy and Engagement Poll were weighted using US Census Bureau figures to ensure the sample’s composition reflects the actual US population. Launched in 2017, the poll has support from Michigan State’s AgBioResearch.

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