Nearly 1 million Israelis, including some 665,000 children, were living in food insecurity during 2021, according to the findings of a National Insurance Institute survey released Tuesday, with the Arab community the worst affected.
According to the report, that translates to 16.2% of families and 21.1% of children living with food insecurity. Of families with children, 19% experienced food insecurity, with 8.5% suffering from severe insecurity.
Also affected were the elderly, with 12% of those over the age of retirement in 2021 suffering from food insecurity.
Food insecurity has been defined as the inability to ensure a constant supply of food that contains all the nutritional elements necessary for proper development and health. While it can lead to malnutrition, it is not the same thing. Indeed, it is a prime cause of obesity and is closely linked to disease and increased vulnerability to illnesses such as COVID-19.
Despite the grim findings, the study noted an improvement in the situation since the last national survey in 2016 — when 18.1% of all families suffered from food insecurity.
Among children, the rate also dropped from 26.3% in 2016 to 21.1% in 2021.
The report noted that the survey was conducted during the height of the coronavirus pandemic, at a time when hundreds of thousands of Israelis had been fired or put on unpaid leave.
While unemployment has decreased since then, the cost of living has skyrocketed with rising inflation sending up the cost of basics like food, utilities and housing.
The report said the worst affected group in Israel was the Arab community, where 42.4% of the families were food insecure in 2021 — a rate almost three times higher than the general population.
That was a very slight improvement from the last survey, when the rate stood at 43.2%.
Among ultra-Orthodox Jews, whose poverty rates are similar to the Arab population, there was a marked improvement in the level of nutritional security, which rose from 77% to approximately 84%, a level approaching that of the population as a whole.
Geographically, Jerusalem and northern Israel, which both have high Arab populations, were the worst affected. In the north, 27% of the population was food insecure, including 14.4% who were severely insecure. Jerusalem saw 23% insecurity, including 9.5% with severe insecurity.
The study also looked at those found to be severely food insecure in the 2016 report and found that 54% of them remained in the same situation in 2021.
Speaking after the release of the report, Yoav Ben-Tzur, a minister within the Welfare Ministry, promised to urgently work to improve the situation. He gave no details on how he intended to do this.
“Over half a million families in Israel live in food insecurity — this is a shocking and painful statistic that must be addressed urgently,” he said, according to the Walla news site.
“We see the weaker populations in society, in the periphery and in the cities, collapsing under the heavy burden of the cost of living and giving up basic meals due to severe economic hardship,” he said. “Every day, hundreds of thousands of children in Israel go to schools without a good lunch.”