Hunger Games: Food Insecurity Spikes in County, State

If noodles, beanie-weenies and powdered milk have been the staples of your diet the last few years, you're not alone.

Roughly 379,000 adults in Orange County struggled to put adequate food on the table during 
the Great Recession, according to a study released Monday by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research

In California, nearly four million adults experienced what researchers refer to as "food insecurity". Households with children and low-income Latinos were hit especially hard, according to researchers.

Orange County in 2009 was among those counties that saw the highest rates of food insecurity, including San Bernardino and Riverside counties. The county's food insecurity jumped from 33.7 percent in 2007 to 52.4 percent in 2009, according to the study. From 2007 to 2009, very low food security rose from 11.9 percent to 18.3, research showed.

From 2001 to 2009, the number of low-income adults that had to cut their food intake and experienced hunger doubled to one in six California adults, according to the study, which is based on data from the 2009 California Health Interview Survey and includes responses from nearly 50,000 households.

In measuring food insecurity, researchers looked at low-income households earning no more than 200 percent of the federal poverty level, which was set at $22,050 for a family of four in 2009.

Food insecurity ballooned during the economic downturn between 2007 and 2009, as the state's unemployment rate spiked from 5 percent to 11 percent, and inflation-adjusted median household income decreased by nearly 5 percent from 2009 to 2010, the largest decline on record, researchers said.

The study shows that nearly half of low-income households with children could not afford adequate food, and about 51 percent of Spanish-speaking, low-income adults experienced food insecurity -- the highest level of among all low-income groups.  

"With the economy still in a slump, many families are grappling with difficult choices: 'Do I pay the bills or buy food to feed my children?'", said study co-author Gail Harrison, a faculty associate at the Center for Health Policy Research and a professor at UCLA's Fielding School of Public Health. "In a state that is the nation's breadbasket, it's sad to see that so many people don't know where their next meal is coming from." 

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