Disadvantaged communities were disproportionately affected by reductions in health programming during the COVID-19 pandemic

Aug 4, 2023

A recent study examined changes in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education programming by California's local health departments during the COVID-19 pandemic. Local health department SNAP-Ed programs comprise California's largest obesity prevention program. In March 2020, when schools and other institutions closed their doors in response to the COVID-19 emergency, the impact on public health programs like SNAP-Ed was immediate and large. As the pandemic continued, California's local health departments reported numerous challenges, including the diversion of staff, funding, and other resources from programs like SNAP-Ed to emergency response. Nutrition Policy Institute researchers measured the changes in local health department SNAP-Ed programming and documented dramatic reductions in reach and dose during the early stages of the pandemic. Reductions disproportionately impacted disadvantaged communities, including those with higher poverty, higher proportions of Black and Latino residents, and less healthy neighborhood conditions. Disproportionately reduced access to important health programs may have worsened health disparities in diet and physical activity-related chronic diseases, as well as increasing susceptibility to COVID-19. This study demonstrates the importance of an equity-centered approach to promoting healthy eating and active living, even—or perhaps especially—during public health emergencies. Study results were published in the journal SSM-Population Health by Gail Woodward-Lopez, Erin Esaryk, Sridharshi Hewawitharana, Janice Kao, Evan Talmage, and Carolyn Rider of NPI with funding from the USDA's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education.