Nearly 11,000 adults in San Luis Obispo County had trouble feeding themselves and their families adequately during the worst days of the recession, according to a new study from the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research.
In raw numbers, San Luis Obispo County fared better than many other counties measured, with a 23 percent on the “food security index.” That compares to generally higher numbers elsewhere among the state’s 58 counties, such as Santa Barbara County’s 37.7 percent and Orange County’s 52.4 percent, the highest.
Nonetheless, the figures are not good, especially given that the figures “don’t reflect children (who are going hungry),” said Kerry Birnbach of California Food Policy Advocates, which collaborated on the study.
Birnbach told The Tribune in an interview that the study reflects the situation in 2009, and there is no recent information. She said it is possible that there has been improvement.
Improvement or not, she and the study’s other authors consider its message dramatic: Close to 4 million Californians “experienced periods during the year when they could not afford to put food on the table or had to forgo other basic needs to do so.”
People who live in hungry households have broader problems, the study found.
They have poorer physical health and are at increased risk of depression and poor mental health, as well as chronic diseases such as diabetes and hypertension, researchers concluded.
In addition, they wrote, women who are “food insecure” are more likely to be overweight and obese, and children who go without enough food suffer academically.
Although the problem may or may not have lessened slightly, many families still “are grappling with difficult choices,” according to one of Birnbach’s co-authors, Gail Harrison, a professor at UCLA’s Fielding School of Public Health.
With the lethargic economic recovery, Harrison said, many Californians are still in the position of deciding, “’Do I pay the bills or buy food to feed my children.’”
“In a state that is the nation’s breadbasket,” Harrison wrote, “it’s sad to see that so many people don’t know where their next meal is coming from.”
The authors said government should help families avoid going hungry “by maintaining an adequate and resilient safety net,” as Matthew Sharp of California Food Policy Advocates put it.
M. Pia Chaparro and Brent Langellier joined Harrison, Sharp and Birnbach as authors of the study.