Food insecurity is still an issue in NYC, and kids are facing the worst of it

The coronavirus has placed extreme financial pressure on millions of New Yorkers for months now. Life is slowly returning to a semblance of normal in the city that never sleeps, but as the old saying goes Rome wasn’t built in a day, and New York won’t recover overnight.

Unfortunately, in the meantime, a new survey has found that food insecurity is still a big problem in the five boroughs. Making matters worse is the fact that NYC’s children appear to be facing the worst of this problem. An almost unbelievable 25% of NYC households with children admitted that at least one child has dealt with hunger due to COVID-19 related problems finding or paying for food since the pandemic started.

Moreover, one in three NYC households with a child under the age of 18 said their little ones had lost weight since the pandemic emerged. 

These are some of the latest findings from the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health & Health Policy’s series of ongoing surveys focused on gauging New Yorker’s lives and reactions throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. A total of 1,000 NYC residents were surveyed for this research at the end of last month.

Another of the survey’s more upsetting findings was the observation that food insecurity and scarcity didn’t seem to improve at all in the month of May. When New Yorkers were surveyed on May 1st through 3rd for an earlier CUNY survey, 44% said they were worried about running out of food before their next paycheck or cash influx and 30% admitted they already had run out of food. Just under a full month later, when NYC residents were surveyed again on May 29th-31st, the same percentages shared the same sentiments.

New York City has implemented several food assistance programs recently, but it’s apparent that the effects of these initiatives aren’t yet being felt by many New Yorkers.

Any pediatrician will tell you that a child losing weight due to lack of food availability is usually a precursor of more serious health conditions associated with malnutrition. 

“Child food insecurity and hunger are among the most debilitating consequences of insufficient income,” says Nicholas Freudenberg, Distinguished Professor of Public Health and Director of the CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute, in a university release. “Their long-term health and social consequences emphasize the importance of acting now to reduce this burden on the future health of New Yorkers.”

Among the survey’s other findings was the revelation that 70% of New Yorkers are spending more nowadays than they normally would on food. Also, 64% are going shopping less frequently. Regarding nutrition, over half (54%) are eating a less healthy diet than they were before the pandemic. Similarly, 49% report eating more packaged, prepared foods that typically contain fewer nutrients.

New Yorkers working in the restaurant, retail, and hospitality industries have been hit the hardest financially by this pandemic. While people with traditional office jobs, or those in managerial positions, have largely been able to switch over to remote work, service industry employees haven’t had the same luxury. So, it makes some sense that lower-income households reported eating more packaged food and spending more of their money on food than high-income households. The same was observed among African American and Latinx NYC households in comparison to white homes. 

These findings in particular caused the study’s authors to theorize that the coronavirus has exacerbated dietary inequalities that were already a big problem in New York City. NYC is home to some of the finest and most exquisite dining options on the planet, yet millions living in the five boroughs are forced to cut corners on their diet due to the high cost of local living.

This research was also published in the Journal of Health Communication.