While the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted lives of New Mexico residents, a group of researchers from New Mexico State University and the University of New Mexico set out to better understand how the pandemic affected food access and security in communities across the state.
In May, the group launched a statewide survey to collect data. The survey, originally developed by a research team at the University of Vermont and Johns Hopkins University, was adapted to understand the impact of the pandemic on food security and access among New Mexicans.
A total of 1,487 New Mexicans took the survey. According to preliminary data, 30 percent reported food insecurity, and 25 percent experienced a job loss or disruption.
Based on a standardized set of questions from the United States Department of Agriculture, food insecurity has not increased since the pandemic began. However, 16 percent of the survey respondents reported experiencing food insecurity since the outbreak began. The first case of the novel coronavirus in New Mexico was identified on March 11.
“Food insecurity in the state was almost double the rate reported by the USDA for 2016-2018, which is concerning. Frequent reassessments are needed as the economic impacts of the pandemic persist,” said Stephanie Rogus, the study’s principal investigator and an assistant professor of human nutrition and dietetic science at NMSU’s College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences.
“The state got approval to issue an increase in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits in March, and 11 percent of our respondents reported receiving an increase in their benefits,” Rogus added. “Participants reported that the increase helped their household. One noted, ‘Getting extra money has meant that we don’t have to choose between paying our light bill or getting groceries.’”
The study found that the top sources for food were grocery stores (82 percent), restaurant delivery (73 percent) and convenience stores, including dollar stores (39 percent).
Additionally, 79 percent of survey respondents said they reduced their trips to grocery stores to avoid exposure, and 70 percent stated they spent more time cooking. Many respondents also stated they were buying more food during food shopping trips, and that their buying behaviors had changed by purchasing more canned and pantry foods.
“Respondents worried most about food becoming more expensive and unsafe, and running out of food if they were unable to go out,” Rogus said. “To adapt, many respondents reported that they would likely buy foods that do not go bad quickly; buy different, cheaper foods; and eat less to stretch the food they have.”