Despite being one of the wealthiest counties in the nation, food insecurity -- measured by limited or uncertain access to food, reduced food intake, and disrupted eating patterns -- affects slightly more than four in 10 of Arlington County residents in the "$60,000 and under" income group. 

This was the major finding of a study conducted by the nonprofit Arlington Food Assistance Center in partnership with the Virginia Tech Center for Survey Research and the Center for Public Administration and Policy, a program in the Virginia Tech School of Public and International Affairs in the National Capital Region.

With roughly 75,000 Arlington residents in this income category, the study suggests as many as 42 percent or 31,500 of these individuals could experience food insecurity – a greater level of food insecurity than previous data suggested.

“This is significantly more than the 2011 Feeding America Food Insecurity study which estimated that 19,980 people in Arlington County, or about 9 percent of Arlington County’s population of approximately 213,000 people, are food insecure to some degree,” said Charles Meng, executive director of the Arlington Food Assistance Center.

“Part of our directive moving forward is partnering with other Arlington social service and government agencies to reach more people in need of food assistance,” Meng said.

Other findings in the study include

  • Both youth and older Arlingtonians in households with incomes of $60,000 and under are disparately affected by food insecurity as compared to other age groups. About one-third (29 percent) of households with children and nearly as many older respondents (30 percent age 65 and older) are experiencing some level of food insecurity.
  • Household employment/underemployment is the largest factor affecting food insecurity. Unemployment and underemployment (low pay and/or not enough work hours), physical and mental health issues, high bills for expenses such as heating and cooling, and food costs are factors affecting food access.
  • County residents frequently reduce food intake to cope with food insecurity. Among the respondents to the primary survey who indicated that they or other adults in their household had cut the size of their meals or skipped meals over the past year because they did not have enough money for food, 43 percent experienced this “almost every month;” 39 percent “some months but not every month;" and 19 percent for “one or two months.”

The study included four components: 1) a comprehensive survey of low-income Arlingtonians to identify their food security status; 2) a second survey of individuals who had been referred to AFAC but chose not to use or discontinued use of AFAC services; 3) an index of food security indicators that describe the range of conditions, experiences, and behaviors that indicate food security and hunger in Arlington; and 4) a food security composite index using 25 indicators to provide a snapshot of the degree of food security in Arlington County at any one point in time.

Susan Willis, director of the Center for Survey Research, and Beth Offenbacker, associate director of social media and engagement in the School of Public and International Affairs, spearheaded Virginia Tech’s role in the study. Willis directed both surveys. Offenbacker provided outreach support and worked with Fatima Sharif of Falls Church, Va., a graduate assistant in the Center for Public Administration and Policy, on preparing the food security indexes.

A copy of the study, which was made possible with the generous support of the Geary-O’Hara Family Foundation, is posted on the Arlington Food Assistance Center website.

The Arlington  Food Assistance Center is an independent, community-based non-profit food pantry that provides dignified access to nutritious supplemental groceries to its Arlington neighbors in need. It serves approximately 1,500 client families weekly at 16 distribution sites throughout Arlington County.



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