Pandemic impacted diets of Massachusetts adults experiencing food insecurity

January 27, 2023—Among Massachusetts adults with low incomes, those experiencing food insecurity reported greater disruptions in their diets during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic than those not experiencing food insecurity, according to a new study led by researchers from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

In a survey of 1,256 adults conducted in late 2020, the researchers found that many who experienced food insecurity were eating less—of both healthy and unhealthy items—since the start of the pandemic. But the study also found that food pantries and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provided a buffer for those experiencing food insecurity. Compared with people who didn’t use either pantries or SNAP, those who used pantries tended to consume higher amounts of both healthy and unhealthy foods, whereas SNAP participants consumed higher amounts of mostly healthy foods.

The study was published online January 5, 2023, in Frontiers.

“We know that access to food during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic was especially difficult for those who were acutely affected by disruptions in the economy, the job market, and daily life,” said first author Matthew Lee, a PhD candidate in the Department of Nutrition. “For folks in Massachusetts living with lower incomes, our study shows that nutrition assistance programs—food pantries and SNAP in particular—are critically important in helping people to secure the foods they need to sustain themselves and others around them. We need to continue to support efforts to bolster and improve these programs and policies.”

Other Harvard Chan authors included Mary Kathryn Poole, Eric Rimm, and Erica Kenney.

Read the study: Food insecurity and the role of food assistance programs in supporting diet quality during the COVID-19 pandemic in Massachusetts