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Food insecurity in food allergy families worsened during early pandemic

Published: June 23, 2021

Food insecurity is defined as a lack of consistent access to sufficient food for an active, healthy life. Food insecurity is a common but preventable problem that leads to poor health outcomes. Many families with a food allergy or celiac disease diagnosis face unique challenges in finding safe foods in their communities. The COVID-19 pandemic introduced additional, novel obstacles to securing safe foods. For example, unemployment rates rose, food transportation and processing stalled, and food assistance programs experienced labor and resource shortages. The unique effect these pandemic-related constraints had on rates of food insecurity among families with dietary restrictions was unknown.

In an article published in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice, Guillaume and colleagues used data from the National Women’s Health COVID-19 Study to examine differences in the pre-pandemic and early pandemic prevalence of food insecurity among households with and without dietary restrictions. In April 2020, the investigators surveyed 3,200 women and assessed household food insecurity using adapted Hunger Vital SignsTM measures. Associations between household dietary restriction status and both pre-pandemic and early pandemic-related food insecurity were examined. Additionally, researchers investigated if associations between food restriction and food insecurity differed among racial and ethnic groups due to structural inequalities.

Seventeen percent of women surveyed indicated that someone in their household had a physician-diagnosed food allergy and five percent of women indicated someone in the household had a diagnosis of celiac disease. Households with self-reported food allergy and/or celiac disease were more likely to be food insecure before the COVID-19 pandemic. These households were also more likely to experience food insecurity for the first time or worsening food insecurity during the early pandemic. The relationship between household dietary restrictions and pandemic-related food insecurity was similar across all racial and ethnic subgroups. These results underscore the importance of regular assessment of food insecurity in families with food allergy and celiac disease as well as the importance of routine access to allergen- and gluten-free products from food assistance programs.  

The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice is an official journal of the AAAAI, focusing on practical information for the practicing clinician.

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