More commonly referred to as "going hungry," the condition now officially known in bureaucratic circles as "food insecurity" remains a serious problem in California, with Napa County recording the second highest percentages of all counties statewide. A recently released report by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research found that 30 percent of low-income California residents (which works out to 2.5 million people) cannot afford enough food for their families without sacrificing such other necessities as prescription medications or medical care. For 775,000 adults statewide, the problem is severe enough that they cut way down on how much they eat, or they do without. While the overall numbers have dropped slightly from the 33.9 percent found statewide in the 2003 survey, the authors of the recent report say the improvement is not significant and that food insecurity has many consequences.
"At mild and moderate levels, food insecurity contributes to anxiety and worry, and often results in adjusting the household budget to forego other basic needs in order to make sure that one's family is fed," the report explains. "Very low food security results in the disruption of eating patterns and reduced food intake. Children in food-insecure households miss more school and do less well in school."
About 10,000 Napa County adults are having trouble putting food on the table; that's 38.4 percent of the population, down slightly from 41.9 percent in 2003. The more recent 2005 figures give Napa the second highest percentage reported statewide, just behind Kings County at 38.6 percent (14,000 people). The lowest rate of food insecurity recorded statewide was 14 percent (6,000 adults) in Placer County, although the report labels this as a "statistically unstable estimate."
Marin County is listed at 32.9 percent, with 9,000 adults struggling to find food in 2005, up considerably from the 20.4 percent reported in 2003. Sonoma County figures were 23,000 adults, or 26.7 percent, down from 33.1 percent in 2003.
These results are based on surveys of adults living with incomes below 200 percent of the federal policy level, but do not include homeless people or folks with slightly higher incomes who may also experience food insecurity. The UCLA report concludes that "the present estimates in all likelihood underestimate the absolute number of adults touched by food insecurity in California."
The report also notes that pregnant women and families with children are at the highest risk of food insecurity.