31% of Americans report changed access to food

"COVID-19 laid bare vulnerabilities that already existed in the food system," says Sheril Kirshenbaum. (Credit: Anna Shvets/Pexels)

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.

“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.

chart title: How did the COVID-19 pandemic affect your household's ability to access food? fewer financial resources (53%), not comfortable in grocery store (37%), food choices limited due to unreliable transportation (32%), visited food banks more often (17%), didn't have people to help me shop (16%), no access to food delivery services (12%), I didn't know how to register for food delivery services (11%), started a garden (9%), I visited food banks less often (7%)
(Credit: 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.

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.

Source: Michigan State University