UW News

June 24, 2020

Study asks Washington state residents to describe food security and access during pandemic, economic downturn

UW News

a plate, knife and forkA new online survey for Washington state residents has launched to gather data on how the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent economic downturn have affected food access and economic security.

The Washington State Food Security Survey, which went live June 18 and runs through July 31, is open to all Washington state residents aged 18 or over. It was created by researchers at the University of Washington, Washington State University and Tacoma Community College, along with input from partners in local, county and state governments — such as the Washington State Department of Health and the Washington State Department of Agriculture.

“We know from increased demand at food banks and in food assistance programs that there has been a steep increase in food insecurity, but we don’t know the details. How are needs changing?” said Jennifer Otten, one of the leaders of the survey team and a UW associate professor of environmental and occupational health sciences. “In addition, due to physical distancing and changes in shopping patterns and food availability, it’s clear that some are also likely experiencing radical dietary shifts.”

The survey, which takes about 20 minutes to complete, asks participants questions about their access to food and levels of economic security and about dietary shifts. It does not ask participants for identifiable information, such as names or protected health information.

“The information gathered by this survey will help state and community partners understand what people are experiencing and help with resource allocation for Washington state residents,” said Otten. “It’s very important we hear from everyone about what has changed, what has stayed the same, and what would help.”

Food insecurity generally encompasses all the factors that keep people from accessing sufficient food and nutrition, including economic, social and employment factors — as well as government and community-assistance factors and issues related to food distribution and infrastructure. National data indicate a steep rise in food insecurity since the coronavirus pandemic began.

The new survey is intended provide an in-depth look at both food and economic security in Washington state — one of the first states to enact social distancing measures, including limiting crowd sizes and closing certain businesses and venues.

“The goals of this survey are to understand how Washington residents are coping with disruptions in economic activity, as well as food distribution and access,” said Adam Drewnowski, another survey team leader and a UW professor of epidemiology.

The team is particularly interested in responses from low-income households and those households that are underserved by food assistance programs. They plan to analyze survey responses on both a statewide level, as well as local and regional levels using participant-provided ZIP codes.

Researchers will share the information gathered by the survey with government and community partners to help identify needs related to food security and allocate resources accordingly.

The survey is available in both English and Spanish here:

Participants also have the option of entering drawings for $50 grocery store gift cards.

Additional UW team members include Sarah Collier, assistant professor of environmental and occupational health sciences; Chelsea Rose and Alan Ismach, research coordinators with the UW Nutritional Sciences Program; doctoral student James Buszkiewicz; and undergraduate student Esther Nguyen. Survey team leaders also include Laura Lewis, an associate professor of community and economic development at WSU and director of the Food Systems Program, as well as Brinda Sivaramakrishnan, professor of health, business and professional services at Tacoma Community College. UW funding is provided by the university’s Population Health Initiative, the Department of Epidemiology and the School of Public Health.


For more information, contact Otten at jotten@uw.edu and Drewnowski at adamdrew@uw.edu.