Food insecurity and health outcomes during the coronavirus pandemic in South Africa: a longitudinal study
Nwosu, Chijioke O.
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Background Given that South Africa experienced significant food insecurity even before the COVID-19 pandemic, it is not surprising that the pandemic would result in even greater food insecurity in the country. This paper provides additional evidence on the relationship between food insecurity and health. Methods Data came from the National Income Dynamics Study-Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey, a longitudinal survey of adult South Africans. Health was a self-reported indicator of general health, while food insecurity was measured by household hunger, the frequency of household hunger, and households running out of money to buy food. We performed descriptive and econometric analyses. Results Food insecurity has remained high even in the face of greater re-opening of the economy. Moreover, among hunger-affected households, between a quarter and a third struggled with hunger almost daily or daily. Belonging to a hunger-affected household was associated with a 7-percentage point higher probability of worse health compared to not experiencing hunger. Compared to being unaffected by hunger, being hungry everyday was associated with a 15-percentage point higher probability of worse health in wave 1, an effect that became statistically insignificant by wave 4. Conclusions These results show the enormity of the hunger problem in South Africa and its adverse effects on health. In the face of economic uncertainty and the removal of COVID-19 palliatives like the grant top-ups, we enjoin policy makers to protect the vulnerable from food insecurity by continuing the implementation of anti-hunger policies and other measures that enhance food security in the country.