United Hospital Fund Report Finds Some 2.6 Million New Yorkers Face Hunger this Holiday Season
NEW YORK, NY—December 15, 2021—The number of people in New York State experiencing food insecurity increased by 36 percent during the COVID-19 pandemic, and now more than one in eight New Yorkers are facing hunger this December, according to an analysis released today by United Hospital Fund and Boston Consulting Group (BCG).
That figure equates to 2.6 million people that are food insecure, including 803,560 children—one out of every five—and 75,000 New Yorkers over age 65. Rates of food insecurity across the state reach a high of 22 percent in the Bronx and 15 percent in upstate Montgomery County.
The researchers estimated that if the prevalence of food insecurity in New York was reduced by just 20 percent, the state would save $550 million each year in health care costs associated with treating chronic disease, while substantially improving patients’ quality of life.
In an accompanying commentary, A Vital Opportunity: How Health Care Can Improve Food Security, UHF authors write that hospitals and other health care systems are uniquely situated to improve food security in their communities. “Health systems, payers, and foundations are making conscientious investments to support food security,” they write. “Many providers, such as Federally Qualified Health Centers, screen patients for food insecurity and refer them to resources within their organizations or to external community partners that can meet the patients’ food needs.”
Food insecurity is an inability to reliably afford and access adequate amounts of nutritious food, both short-term and long-term. Persistent unemployment, low-paying jobs, lack of affordable housing, and other costly living expenses all contribute to food insecurity. These are often amplified by systemic racism, which has created and perpetuated inequities in many of the root causes of food insecurity.
Although there are numerous free meal and grocery programs across the state that help meet short-term food needs, and government-sponsored programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) can help, the eligibility requirements for these public assistance programs are narrow enough that a large portion of the food-insecure population is excluded. For example, nearly 40 percent of food-insecure Americans are more likely to have incomes that make them ineligible for public assistance programs.
“Food insecurity has plagued New Yorkers for ages, but the systemic inadequacies of the state’s food safety net were made far worse by COVID-19,” said Emily Arsen, UHF Senior Research Analyst and a co-author of the report. “Many New Yorkers have been forced to choose between food, housing, transportation, medical care, and savings.”
In the Bronx, one in four residents faces food insecurity, 1.7 times the state average. However, the next four highest food-insecure counties are all upstate and rural.
The report, Food Insecurity and Health Care: Addressing Food Insecurity through the Health Care System in New York, is divided into three parts. The first looks at the scale of food insecurity in New York. Part two examines how the health care sector is addressing the issue as it increasingly recognizes the impact of food insecurity on health, while the third reviews other interventions the health care sector can invest in to reduce food insecurity. The authors acknowledge that the health care sector is one of many that can contribute to solving the issue, and have dedicated special attention to it because of its inherent community ties.
“Health systems are well situated to improve food security in their communities, and many are already making investments in this area,” said UHF President Anthony Shih, MD. “But food insecurity will not be solved by the health care system alone. Partnerships across sectors are required to better serve communities.”
Along with Ms. Arsen, the report was produced by Denise Arzola, UHF Director of Clinical Community Partnerships; Chad Shearer, Senior Vice President for Policy and Program; and Dr. Shih. The BCG team included Leonardo Fascione, Principal; Edoardo Cavallazzi, Project Leader; Pere Puig, Senior Associate; Daniel Urke, Associate; and Christophe Durand, Managing Director and Partner, and UHF Board Member. The full report and appendix can be downloaded from UHF’s website here.
The commentary is published on UHF’s website and was written by Ms. Arsen, Ms. Arzola, and Gabriela Groenke, Executive and Program Assistant.