COVID-19 has the potential to impact the health of individuals experiencing food insecurity and reduced food access. A national collaboration examined this impact across the United States, including Utah.
The objective of this study was to explore the effect of COVID-19 on perceived food access challenges, barriers, and compensatory strategies among SNAP-eligible Utahns.
A 76-item survey was emailed to all SNAP-eligible Utahns (N = 24,763) in July 2020. The USDA's 6-item Food Security Module was used to determine food security prior to and since COVID-19. Additional questions asked about food access and eating/purchasing behaviors. Participants (n = 521) were predominately White (75%) females (77%).
Level of agreement for using compensatory food access strategies was summed (score range: 7-42; higher scores reflecting increased use) and assessed for mean differences using ANOVA based on food insecurity classification. Rating scales were used to measure food access challenges and barriers to using nutrition assistance (4-5 item scales) during COVID-19. Spearman correlations examined associations between challenges/barriers and degree of food insecurity.
Of participants (n = 358) who were food insecure, 74% were White and 77% were female. Food insecure individuals prior to and since COVID-19 were more likely than food secure participants to use compensatory strategies to ensure food affordability during COVID-19 (mean score = 30 vs 26, respectively; P = 0.002). Degree of food insecurity was associated with barriers to using nutrition assistance, including difficulty traveling to apply/recertify (r = 0.24; P < 0.001) and frequency of experiencing food access challenges during COVID-19 (r = 0.16-0.33; P ≤ 0.002).
Challenges with food access and barriers to utilizing nutrition assistance during COVID-19 are associated with food insecurity among SNAP-eligible individuals, potentially resulting in reliance upon more compensatory food affordability strategies. Efforts should be taken to minimize these barriers to ensure adequate food quantity and quality among food insecurity individuals.