While food insecurity rates have significantly dropped in the U.S, hunger-related needs remain over 55 percent above pre-pandemic levels.
The Associated Press analyzed hundreds of records from food banks nationwide and found that notable declines in how much food was handed out began when the COVID-19 vaccine became available. But hunger-related issues persist in the U.S.
"It’s come down, but it’s still elevated," COO of Feeding America Katie Fitzgerald said to the AP. "We’re worried (food insecurity) could increase all over again if too many shoes drop."
Concerns remain especially as the delta variant of the coronavirus continues to infect people globally and as Americans feel the impact of ending eviction moratorium and expanded unemployment benefits.
The food banks that work with Feeding America saw a 31 percent increase in the amount of food distributed in the first quarter of 2021 compared with how much was distributed at the start of 2020 just before the pandemic began, the AP reported.
"COVID isn’t over by any means," Radha Muthiah, who serves as president of Capital Area Food Bank in Washington, D.C., said to the AP. "We’re still seeing existing need."
Even beyond the pandemic, a recent study showed that climate change can also contribute to hunger.
An El Niño triggers weather pattern changes that can result in increased temperatures and negative impacts on agriculture, infectious diseases and world conflicts, among other issues. The World Health Organization (WHO) found that El Niño conditions exacerbated undernutrition in children.
In 2015, a severe El Niño year, the WHO threshold for children severely underweight rose by nearly 6 percent, which accounts for about 6 million children suffering from hunger, according to the study published on Tuesday.