COVID-19 Impacts Food Behaviors
1 New Mexico State University
2 University of New Mexico
General Overview Research Brief
BE BOLD. Shape the Future.
New Mexico State University
Food Access and Security During COVID-19:
A New Mexico Study
College of Agricultural, Consumer
and Environmental Sciences
Food insecurity, as defined by a standardized set of USDA questions, has not increased since the coronavirus outbreak. Thirty percent of respondents reported experiencing food insecurity in the last year, and 30% reported experiencing food insecurity since the first case of coronavirus was identified in New Mexico on March 11. Although there was no change in food insecurity from March through June, reassessments should be done frequently as the economic impacts of the outbreak persist, stimulus checks are used, and unemployment benefits expire.
Of particular concern, 16% of respondents reported experiencing very low food security in the past year and 16% since the outbreak. Those with very low food insecurity may experience patterns of disrupted eating and reduced food intake.
Since the coronavirus outbreak in New Mexico, the top sources for food were grocery stores (82%), restaurant delivery (73%), and convenience stores like Allsups, 7-Eleven, or Circle K or dollar stores (39%).
The percent of people reporting that “someone brings me food” nearly doubled from 13% to 25% since the start of the outbreak.
Among respondent households, 24% indicated a food allergy or sensitivity, 23% included someone who needs to avoid some foods for a health condition, 9% included at least one vegetarian or vegan, and 1% reported a religious restriction.
Thirty-one percent of households who reported a special diet said that their ability to meet these needs has changed since the coronavirus outbreak.
Figure 1 shows the distribution of responses when asked about the effects of the coronavirus outbreak on food behaviors in New Mexico. 79% said they reduced grocery trips to avoid exposure “usually” or “always” and 70% said they spent more time cooking “usually” or “always.”
Thirty percent of respondents reported food insecurity, with 16% experiencing very low food security, though there was no change in food insecurity since the coronavirus outbreak began.
Twenty-five percent of respondents with jobs experienced a job loss or disruption.
Respondents said the most helpful actions for meeting their food needs would be more food in stores and increased trust in the safety of going to stores and food delivery.
Respondents worried most about food becoming more expensive and unsafe, and running out of food if they were unable to go out.
New Mexicans are using a variety of strategies to adapt: a majority of respondents are at least somewhat likely to buy foods that do not go bad quickly (73%); buy different, cheaper foods (71%); and stretch the food they have by eating less (58%).
The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic disrupted food systems, food access, and food security in the United States and abroad. An online survey1 was distributed over a period of five weeks in New Mexico on May 21, two months after “stay at home” orders were issued, to understand how food access and food security were affected. The survey, available in English and Spanish, was initiated following an increase in food assistance benefits in the state and after the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act passed, which provided a one-time check and enhanced unemployment benefits to Americans. The survey was announced through social media ads, media coverage, and community partners. A total of 1,487 New Mexicans responded; 1,438 (97%) completed the English version and 49 (3%) completed the Spanish version. This report provides a summary of responses, including reported food security, food purchasing behaviors, concerns about food access, perceptions, and effects on employment. For more information on respondents experiencing food insecurity or work disruption, please see the separate reports on those topics.
1Niles, Meredith T.; Neff, R.; Biehl, Erin; Bertmann, Farryl; Morgan, Emily H.; Wentworth, Thomas, 2020, "Food Access and Security During Coronavirus Survey- Version 1.0",https://doi.org/10.7910/DVN/RQ6NMG, Harvard Dataverse, V1
Respondents who indicated that extra money would be helpful reported needing $137 more per week, on average, to meet their food needs.
Respondents expressed a variety of concerns about food during the pandemic, especially food becoming more expensive, food becoming unsafe, and having enough food at home if they can’t go out due to quarantine (Figure 3).
“We have not been to a store since March 11. We lost our grandma to COVID. She lives on the Navajo reservation and we are constantly scared that our relatives are not able to get food there.”
New Mexicans indicated a variety of things would make it easier for their household to meet its food needs during the pandemic. The top three responses were related to the amount and variety of foods available in stores, and trust in stores and delivery.
“I am concerned about people buying more food than they need and hoarding it thereby leaving less available for others.”
Figure 2. Top five most helpful items to make it easier for households to meet their food needs during the coronavirus outbreak (includes responses of “somewhat helpful,” “helpful,” and “very helpful”).
Figure 1. Top six behaviors from the coronavirus outbreak. The majority of respondents indicated that these happened “sometimes,” “usually,” or “always.”
“Getting extra money has meant that we don't have to choose between paying our light bill or getting groceries.”
Food Access and Security During COVID-19
Additionally, 54% indicated more money would be helpful and 47% would value support for the cost of food delivery (Figure 2).
Twenty-nine percent of respondents reported information about programs or pantries would help and 26% indicated increased benefits in existing assistance programs would help.
New Mexicans Worry About Food, Make Adaptations
Figure 3. Level of worry for the household as it relates to coronavirus on a scale from 1 (not at all worried) to 6 (extremely worried).
Of those with difficulties affording food, the top three strategies they are using or would use in the future are buying foods that do not go bad, buying different or cheaper foods, and eating less. While only 14% reported currently using government assistance programs or emergency food programs (food pantry or soup kitchen), about one in three reported that they were at least somewhat likely to use government or emergency food programs in the future (Figure 4).
On April 12, New Mexico issued additional SNAP benefits to households receiving less than the maximum amount. Eleven percent of respondents reported receiving an increase in SNAP benefits.
Figure 4. Strategies that respondents are currently using, or are at least somewhat likely to use in the future (indicates “somewhat likely,” “likely,” and “very likely”).
Buying Patterns are Changing
Similarly, 36% reported buying items their household does not normally use, whereas 76% believed that the average household did this. Generally, respondents felt they were wasting less food since the outbreak, and that the average household was throwing away more food.
Figure 5. Changes in household buying patterns since the coronavirus outbreak. This figure does not include those that indicated they were buying “the same” amount of a product.
Respondents generally felt that average people should take action to prevent the spread of coronavirus and that it would affect people like them (Figure 7). There were more divided perspectives on how the coronavirus will affect New Mexico versus other states, how the virus will affect other countries compared to the U.S., and whether coronavirus can be transmitted through food. Most respondents did not feel prepared for the outbreak (60%) and did not believe the U.S. should prioritize the economy over public health (70%).
Figure 7. Agreement with statements regarding the coronavirus outbreak. This was a scale from 1 (strongly disagree) to 4 (strongly agree). Disagree includes “strongly disagree” and “disagree”; agree includes “strongly agree” and “agree.”
“Impulse buying and hoarding of supplies like rice, beans, and toilet paper was a big concern in New Mexico but it seems to have improved over the last month. My shopping habits and diet are actually improving for the better and I hope to continue them after the “virus scare” is over. I’m glad to see more people trying to grow their own food, but I have been unable to do that even with a yard.”
Figure 6. Comparison of self-reported behavior to the expected behavior of the average U.S. household.
COVID-19 Affects New Mexico Jobs and Perceptions
Respondents generally felt their households were reacting differently to the coronavirus outbreak than an “average U.S. household” (Figure 6). 61% of households reported buying a lot more in a single trip, while 86% thought that the average U.S. household did this.
Though the survey went out after the initial major disruptions in product availability in stores throughout New Mexico, purchasing behaviors have changed for a variety of items. Many respondents reported buying more (Figure 5). More than half of households are buying more canned goods (57%) and pantry foods (53%). Over one in three respondents, however, indicated that their buying was “the same” for every item.
The majority (57%) did not know anyone with symptoms of or diagnosed with the coronavirus. Of those that did know someone, 16% said they themselves had to quarantine in their homes due to coronavirus.
Twenty-five percent of respondents with jobs indicated they experienced a job disruption, including being furloughed (4%), having a reduction in hours (14%), or losing their job (7%). Of those that reported a job disruption, 31% filed for unemployment, 6% have not been able to get through to the unemployment office, and 46% did not need to file for unemployment or did not believe they were eligible for benefits.
Respondents Do Not Fully Reflect the New Mexico Population
We would like to express our sincere gratitude to the individuals that shared their experiences by completing the survey. We would also like to thank the many community organizations and institutions that assisted with the dissemination of our survey, particularly New Mexico First, New Mexico Thrives, Presbyterian Healthcare Services, and New Mexico State Extension. We also want to thank Gaby Phillips and Aracely Tellez for help with translating the survey into Spanish.
The research team is a member of NFACT.The National Food Access and COVID Research Team (NFACT) is a national collaboration of researchers committed to rigorous, comparative, and timely food access research during the time of COVID. We do this through collaborative, open access research that prioritizes communication to key decision-makers while building our scientific understanding of food system behaviors and policies. To learn more visit nfactresearch.org.
“My heart breaks for our tribes, pueblos, and nations. We have to do something to help them. Rural New Mexico is getting left behind and again this pandemic only highlights it.”
The respondent population was older than the population of New Mexico, with 66% of respondents falling in the 35-64 age group compared with 36% in New Mexico.
Seventy-seven percent of the respondents were White compared to 38% of the population in New Mexico, and 33% were Hispanic compared to 49% in the state.
Eighty-three percent of respondents were female, compared with the state average of 51%.
Respondents’ income was higher than the state median household income and a higher proportion of respondents had formal education compared to the state average (33% with bachelor’s degrees compared to 15% in New Mexico).
All counties except Union county were represented in the sample. There were more respondents from Doña Ana County and fewer respondents from Bernalillo County compared to the state population. The percentage of respondents from Santa Fe County was the same as the state population.