Every human in the United States can attest that COVID-19 has changed our way of life. In addition to shining a light on the prevalence of racial and ethnic disparities, socioeconomic status, and weight status on outcomes in COVID-19, the pandemic is driving food insecurity to an all-time high.
So, what is food insecurity?
Food insecurity is a disruption in food intake or eating patterns because of lack of money and other resources. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) divides food insecurity into two categories:
- Low food security: Quality, variety, or desired foods are being reduced by necessity. However, low food security is linked to little or no paring back in food intake.
- Very low food security: Multiple indicators of disrupted eating patterns — such as having no food in the fridge — and reduced food intake due to not having access to food.
How does food insecurity drive eating disorders?
One of the first studies to address the full spectrum of eating disorders in people living with food insecurity was published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders in 2017. In this study, participants with the highest level of food insecurity experienced:
- higher levels of binge eating (uncontrollable eating)
- a higher likelihood of having any type of eating disorder, such as anorexia or bulimia
- dietary restraint for any reason, for example, avoiding a food group, such as carbohydrates, or types of foods, such as desserts
- weight self-stigma, assessed through responses to a questionnaire that measured self-devaluation and fear of experiencing stigma (sample statement: “I would never have any problems with weight if I were stronger”)
- high levels of worry, also measured through responses to a questionnaire (sample statement: “My worries overwhelm me”).
A 2020 study in Eating Disorders points to high levels of dietary restraint in racially and ethnically diverse, low-income urban populations. The primary reasons people reported holding back on eating were:
- minimizing the effect of hunger on children and other family members
- stretching food by eating less to make it last longer
- prioritizing medical expenses over food.
Stretching the limits of food banks
Unfortunately, in the wake of COVID-19, unemployment rates are higher than