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For Immediate Release:
May 10, 2001
For more information contact:
DHS Communications
(213) 240-8144 Pager: (213) 990-7107

Economic burden of food unmet long before higher costs of utilities, gas, housing

LOS ANGELES - Despite plentiful food supplies in the United States, 25% of Los Angeles County residents living at or below 300% of the federal poverty level (FPL) report they lack access to enough food to satisfy basic needs and 10% of these residents say they experience actual hunger. Part of an overall health survey, the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services (DHS) used a standardized scale to assess food security among persons with incomes at or below 300% of the FPL within the County - comprising more than one-half of the County's population.

This is the first food security report in Los Angeles County and is based on survey data conducted between September 1999 and April 2000 -- nearly a year before the County began experiencing increased gas and electric costs as well as the continued high costs of housing.

These findings are consistent with national data reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Food insecurity is defined as the limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods to meet basic health needs. In 1999, the 100% FPL for a family of two adults and two dependents was $16,895 per year; the 200% FPL was $33,790 per year; and the 300% FPL was $50,685 per year.

"Hunger and the perception of having enough food to satisfy hunger has a tremendous impact on an individual's health and quality of life," said Jonathan E. Fielding, M.D., M.P.H., Director of Public Health and Health Officer for DHS. "For infants and young children, inadequate food and nourishment can interfere with growth, development -- including educational achievement -- and can lead to adverse health effects that last a lifetime."

The survey also found that households with children were at greatest risk for inadequate food supplies. Among households living below 100% of the FPL, those with children were twice as likely to report food insecurity (42%) as those without children (23%).

Public assistance programs, in place to help individuals meet their basic needs, were not used by many in this population. In food insecure households below 100% of the FPL, 65% reported they did not receive any form of public assistance. In addition, almost one-third of those participating in Cal WORKSs (California's welfare-to-work program) reported food insecurity.

The Los Angeles County Health Survey is a population-based telephone survey of approximately 8,000 households in the County, examining health and health-related issues for adults and children. Field Research Corporation conducted the survey for DHS with support from the California Department of Health Services and the Los Angeles County Department of Public Social Services. The survey was repeated in September 1999 through April 2000; the biennial survey was first conducted in 1997.

Public Health is committed to protecting and improving the health of the nearly 10 million residents of Los Angeles County. Through a variety of programs, community partnerships and services, Public Health oversees environmental health, disease control and community and family health. Public Health comprises more than 3,800 employees and has an annual budget exceeding $465 million.