Urban Institute Completes Arlington Food Security and Access Study

Published on May 03, 2022

In 2021, the Arlington County Food Security Task Force partnered with the Urban Institute to evaluate food insecurity and access to nutritious, healthy, and culturally appropriate food within and across Arlington County. The study – now publicly available – is part of the Food Security Task Force’s effort to develop a strategic plan to improve food security in Arlington.

The study provides insight into geographic and demographic characteristics of those experiencing food insecurity. It also sheds a light on personal experiences around food access. The study’s findings and recommendations will be incorporated into the Food Security Task Force’s strategic plan, to be released in the fall of 2022.

“We have long known that food security and access to nutritious, affordable food is an issue for many Arlington households,” said Department of Human Services Director Anita Friedman. “While there are many resources available for residents to meet their food needs, the study gives additional insight to the challenges of those experiencing food insecurity. It points to areas where the County and its business and non-profit partners could make improvements to better help residents make ends meet. The study will play an important role in informing the work of the Food Security Task Force moving forward.”

Key findings from the study include:

  • Food insecurity is concentrated in south and east Arlington County, especially the Glencarlyn, Forest Glen/Arlington Mill, Buckingham/Ashton Heights, Pentagon City, Crystal City South, and Crystal City North neighborhoods.
  • Survey data show Black and Hispanic/Latinx respondents reported significantly higher rates of food insecurity than white respondents and that Asian households with low incomes had to travel further to access charitable food sites.
  • Households experiencing food insecurity had substantial difficulty paying expenses, and food budgets were often the first to be cut in times of financial hardship, especially as increasing inflation put upward pressure on households’ food costs.
  • Survey data show that food insecure residents struggle to find and afford healthy and culturally appropriate food while shopping. 20% of food insecure survey respondents said they could rarely afford food they deemed healthy and nutritious and 15% said they could rarely afford food that represents their culture.
  • There are over 50 charitable food distribution sites in Arlington and most are open year-round, but fewer than 1 in 5 offered weekly service and evening or weekend hours. In particular, the Crystal City and Pentagon City areas had relatively high estimated food insecurity rates compared with the rest of the county and low access to existing charitable food resources.
  • About half of residents who were experiencing food insecurity at the time of the survey reported using free groceries or meals. Residents reported that the cost of transportation, pride, and stigma may be a barrier to accessing free groceries and meals. 56% of survey respondents who accessed charitable groceries reported that they always received healthy food and 47% always received the variety they wanted or needed.

The Food Security Task Force is reviewing findings and recommendations from the study, and will consider investments where Arlington County could build on its strengths and address residents’ concerns and barriers.

Review the full report

 

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