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More low-income Californians struggle with food insecurity


High rate for African-American adults

An increasing number of low-income, working-age Californians say they’re struggling to access nutritious and affordable food, according to a study released recently by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research.

The California Health Interview Survey, the largest health survey in the state, found 44% of adults statewide who earn less than 200% of the federal poverty level were unable to afford enough food in 2022, up from 35.8% in 2020.

The most significant increase between 2020 and 2022 occurred among working-age adults, jumping 11 percentage points among adults ages 18-24 to 47.7%, 8.6 points among adults ages 25-39 to 51.4%, and 12.4 points among adults ages 40-64 to 48%, according to the survey.

Among racial or ethnic groups, Latin-American adults experienced the highest increase in food insecurity with a 9.6 percentage-point increase to 47%. However, adults who identify with two or more races and African-American adults had among the highest overall rates of food insecurity in 2022 at 49.9% and 48.6%, respectively.

Hate incidents and difficulties accessing health care were also at the forefront of issues that plagued Californians in 2022, according to Ninez Ponce, director of the research center.

“Our 2022 data reveal a complex health landscape–deepening food insecurity, hate incidents, challenges in accessing health care, and an ongoing mental health crisis–that paints a stark picture of the challenges faced by California’s large and diverse population,’’ Ponce said. “We call on community organizations and advocates, legislators, and policymakers to explore the new data and address these pressing issues.’’

The 2022 survey added new and expanded questions on Californians’ experiences with hate crimes or incidents of bias. While more than one in nine (11.7%) California adults said they have ever been a victim of a hate crime or incident, the rate among African-American adults was one in four (26.2%)—four times as high as the 6.3% for white adults. The figure was 17.4% for adults who identify with two or more races, 15.6% for Asian adults, and 13.5% for Latin American adults.

The 2022 survey included responses from over 21,400 adults, 985 teens and 3,395 children. It covered more than 100 topics related to the physical and mental health of Californians.

Other results included:

— About one in six (16.4%) adults reported in 2022 that they likely had serious psychological distress in the past year, similar rates to 2021 (17%) and higher than in 2019 (13%) and 2020 (12.2%);

— Nearly one in three (30.7%) California adults who have had COVID-19 experienced symptoms of long COVID. Latin American adults (38.4%) had significantly higher rates of long lasting COVID symptoms compared to white adults (24.1%);

— The proportion of adults, teens and children who had health insurance in 2022 reached 94.8% 

— the highest rate recorded by the CHIS;

— Difficulty accessing care was a concern among more than one in five (22.4%) California adults, indicating they were never able to get a doctor’s appointment within two days when they tried, up from 12.3% in 2020; and

— One-third of adults who needed mental health care said difficulty getting an appointment was the reason they didn’t get the emotional help they needed in 2022, up from 24.4% in 2021.

“While the state of California is often seen as a leader in striving toward health equity, the 2022 data highlights some of the ongoing disparities that are impacting Californians’ overall well-being,’’ said Todd Hughes, director of the California Health Interview Survey. “This isn’t just a collection of numbers. This is a story of Californians: their challenges, their fears, and their needs. This is the key to shaping a brighter, healthier future for all.’’