The COVID-19 pandemic has generated a deep crisis for vulnerable populations, including day laborers. In the face of the pandemic, day laborers are a highly vulnerable group for whom job insecurity brings about a financial crisis, which is likely to lower dietary diversity for their households . The current study assessed HDD and HFS associated factors among day laborers, highlighting the dire situation of food insecurity this population faces due to COVID-19.
Demographic determinants of HFS and HDD
The mean HFS score was significantly higher in urban households than rural households, indicating that the pandemic has compounded food insecurity risk for rural residents. This finding is consistent with a recent report showing a 15% drop in having three meals per day in rural regions during COVID-19 compared to pre-pandemic . The present study found that higher monthly income is a significant predictor of higher HFS, which aligns with a prior Bangladeshi survey indicating that one unit's rise in the householder's farm revenue would raise the possibility of households’ food security . Additionally, households with a monthly income above 5000 BDT had higher HDD status. Households with income levels above this threshold can purchase more varied food from markets , while poor households may restrict their food intake to an insufficient number of food products . Furthermore, another Bangladeshi study found about half of the families’ income fell below $1·90 per day, which was a significant risk factor for food insecurity .
The current study also found that households with a refrigerator had both higher HFS and HDD scores, which is consistent with past research . Refrigerators provide households the ability to safely preserve a wider variety of food groups for longer durations decreasing the need for more frequent and repeated purchases, which in the face of COVID-19 related challenges allows households more flexibility and opportunistic in food consumption. Our findings align with a recent Bangladeshi study during the COVID-19 pandemic, whereby owning a refrigerator was associated with higher HFS . Owning a refrigerator as a predictive factor of HFS and HDD could be partially explained with refrigerators indicating a component of household income, which, as previously discussed, is associated with increased higher HFS and HDD. Consistent with prior Bangladeshi studies , we found that families with a household head with secondary education were more food secure in comparison to those with no formal education. Another study argued that households with less-educated household heads are more likely to be food insecure . Another possible explanation could be that household heads with secondary education might be more aware of their food consumption from variety of food groups as well as their food security. This study is consistent with past literature, indicating that larger family size is associated with increased vulnerability for food insecurity , resulting in higher costs of food for more individuals. Respondents who exhibited knowledge about nutrition from health professionals and other sources (such as family members, friends) had greater HDD and HFS scores, compared to those with no basis of dietary/nutrition knowledge, highlights the importance of education and awareness-raising surrounding nutrition as a driver for improved household food security and diversity . Health professionals provide accurate and evidence-based information, whereas other sources of knowledge (e.g., traditional media) often circulate mis-information which explains the higher dietary diversity among respondents having knowledge gained from health professionals.
COVID-19 related determinants of HFS
We found that decreased household income was a significant risk factor of food insecurity during the COVID-19 pandemic. The economic stressors induced by the impact of various social distancing measures on job and income. Income security is crucially threatening food security among low-income households, including day laborers’ families, who entirely depend on daily income [10, 32, 33]. Financial losses can affect nearly half of the world severely, with extreme poverty and substantially high food insecurity . In the present study, individuals who lost their daily work were more vulnerable to food insecurity during the COVID-19 pandemic compared to those with job security throughout the pandemic. This finding supports a prior Bangladeshi study observed that employment loss results in almost half the population experiencing severe poverty, dramatically rising food insecurity [11, 17]. This situation is affecting day laborers extraordinarily, as it was previously found that 50% of daily wage workers were not permitted to work due to COVID-19 related measures .
In the present study, about 76.1% of households reported that they didn’t get the same amount of food and 94.8% reported that they didn’t get the same type of food as before COVID-19. The high rates of impact on food security are consistent with a recent survey which demonstrated that 91% of the total respondents lacked finances for food, while 75% reported not having enough food . Moreover, decreased access to quantity and diversity of food were significantly associated with lower HFS scores, coinciding with a previous study . Unemployment and under-employment, especially in low-income groups like day laborers during the COVID-19 related lockdown and other travel restrictions, decrease the ability to purchase food and disrupt the quality and quantity of food consumed .
COVID-19 related determinants of HDD
The present study showed that losing the daily work of day laborers was a potential risk factor for decreasing HDD status, which is expected as negative economic impacts disrupt food access . In addition, income reduction of the households during the pandemic was also a risk factor for low HDD. Decreasing income may reduce the ability to spend on consumption which might be responsible for lower dietary diversity among participants . Self-employed workers, such as day-to-day workers, do not have access to unemployment benefit schemes or salary pay schemes which leaves them highly vulnerable in terms of supplementing pandemic-related income losses and directly affecting their dietary diversity .
Smaller food quantity in comparison to pre-pandemic was also associated with lower HDD scores. Notably, almost all respondents reported increased food prices and reduction in income (97.7% and 93.6%, respectively), which compounds the financial ability to attain HDD with households earning less yet being charged more. The inflation of food markets further increases the vulnerability of low-income households prone to lower dietary diversity . COVID-19 associated measures disturbed the supply chain, likely contributing to global food shortages [38, 39], which can drive the lack of availability of food groups, leading to the decreased dietary diversity among a significant percentage of participants in the study . The ongoing household food insecurity and reduced HDD should be addressed with targeted intervention (i.e., food aid) and continued monitoring of nutritional practices in the food-vulnerable group, including day laborers .
What this study adds
To provide baseline information of the situation, this study has assessed the impact of COVID-19 related socio-economic threats and its impact on HFS and HDD among Bangladeshi day-laborers. Since the information was collected through the face-to-face interview method, the self-reported biasness was limited in the current study. Since there is no existing literature depicting how the pandemic affects low-income groups such as day laborers in Bangladesh. Researchers, nutrition, and health professionals could use the current study results and policymakers to design targeted food security programs informed by a robust evidence base. The present study concluded that the effect of COVID-19 on households facing unemployment has directly impacted socio-economic status and food insecurity, identifying associated factors with food security and dietary diversity. The current study data provide useful information for exploring some of the immediate implications of the COVID-19 crisis, which should be expanded upon through representative and longitudinal samples.
This cross-sectional nature of the study doesn’t allow us to establish causal relationships. Due to dealing with the specific subject group (i.e., day laborers) of this study, the findings may not be generalized into other subject groups (such as rural people, tribal people, employed groups, etc.). Although the HDD scores can help determine food accessibility, it does not capture the amount of actual food consumption by households. Besides, we didn’t measure the pre-pandemic HDD and HFS status; thus, the findings cannot say the causal reason for lower HDD and HFS due to the COVID-19 pandemic.