Barriers to Food Access in Latinx Community, Point to Deep Systemic Inequities and Discrimination

Only Further Exacerbated by the COVID-19 Pandemic, Researchers Report Association Between Experiences of Discrimination with Food Insecurity among East Boston Latinx Community. Alongside These Challenges, Findings Illuminate Strong Social Bonds Families May Draw Support from in Times of Crisis.

BOSTON (July 7, 2020) — Children’s HealthWatch, a non-partisan research and policy network headquartered at Boston Medical Center, and Project Bread, the leading state-wide anti-hunger nonprofit in Massachusetts, today released new research on food insecurity in East Boston and across the state. Funded by Project Bread’s Walk for Hunger and The Boston Foundation, the findings not only strongly reinforce the role deep inequities in our system have in the disproportionately high rate of food insecurity experienced in Latinx communities, but also the power neighborhood bonds may have to help mitigate their effects. Conducted prior to the COVID-19 crisis, the study, carried out in partnership with the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center, included close to 300 patients who predominantly self-identified as Latinx. East Boston is home to the largest foreign-born population of any Boston neighborhood and an outsized burden of poor health outcomes in the city. The study’s results illustrate the urgency of building an equitable and systemic response to food insecurity in both the immediate and long term.

“This new research underscores that this predominantly Latinx community is one living simultaneously with high levels of preexisting economic hardships as well as great social strengths and interconnections,” shares Stephanie Ettinger de Cuba, executive director of Children’s HealthWatch. “Now more than ever, we must change policies and structures to ensure basic needs are met, discrimination is eliminated, and existing community strengths are fostered.”

The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent economic downturn have compounded pre-existing economic hardships, including surging  rates of food insecurity, and highlighted unequal access to resources in the Latinx community in East Boston and more broadly – all of which are closely tied to both historic and present-day discrimination.

”We need to do more collectively, to proactively and directly engage strong Latinx communities like East Boston, to inform how we can best meet their needs,” said Catalina López-Ospina, Director of Food Access for the City of Boston and member of the research project’s advisory committee. “Projects like this are important to help us better understand and respond to the challenges faced by our neighbors.”

In the midst of rapidly rising rates of hunger caused by the global pandemic and in light of unemployment rates not seen since the Great Depression, this study provides timely context to reinforce the need for a response that is immediate and large-scale – and most critically – equity-informed.

“Our capacity to design and carry out effective anti-hunger programs depends on direct engagement with the communities we serve. Solutions only work when they are informed by the perspective of people food insecurity,” said Erin McAleer, President of Project Bread. “In the face of COVID-19, we have an important opportunity in Massachusetts right now, to urgently change the existing systems which contributed to and still perpetuate disparities in food security by race and ethnicity, so we may not only recover but achieve greater equity for all.”

Through the State of Hunger in Massachusetts research project in East Boston, Project Bread and Children’s HealthWatch endeavored to provide empirical evidence that would re-ignite and energize conversations, motivation, and action to end food insecurity in the Commonwealth once and for all.

About Project Bread

Project Bread is the leading statewide anti-hunger organization in Massachusetts and a proud member of the East Boston community.  Beginning in 1969 with the first Walk for Hunger, our mission is to end hunger in Massachusetts by permanently removing barriers to food access, ensuring everyone can acquire food with dignity.  We connect families and communities with reliable access to food, placing a special emphasis on federal nutrition programs such as SNAP and school/summer meals. For more information, visit: www.projectbread.org.

About Children’s HealthWatch

Children’s HealthWatch is a nonpartisan network of pediatricians, public health researchers, and children’s health and policy experts based at Boston Medical Center. Our network is committed to improving children’s health in America. We do that by first collecting real-time data in urban hospitals across the country on infants and toddlers from families facing economic hardship. We then analyze and share our findings with researchers, legislators, and the public.  Our findings help policymakers and the public better understand the social and economic factors that impact children’s health so they can make well-informed policy decisions that can give all children equal opportunities for healthy, successful lives. For more information, visit: www.childrenshealthwatch.org