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In 2016, 17.5 percent of all children in the United States (12.9 million) lived in a household with limited access to adequate food at some point during the year. Breaking this number down by race and ethnicity reveals a stark disparity: 13.2 percent of white children (nearly 5.5 million) lived in food-insecure households, versus about one-quarter of both black children (25.6 percent, or 2.6 million) and Hispanic children (24.3 percent, or 3.9 million).

While the percentage of children in food-insecure households has fallen in recent years, these numbers are only now returning to their pre-recession levels: in 2007, 16.9 percent of all children lived in food-insecure households (11.9 percent of white non-Hispanic children, 26.1 percent of black non-Hispanic children, and 26.7 percent of Hispanic children). This decline coincides with the economic recovery, and is likely also associated with the expansion of free and reduced-price lunch programs, programs that extend such benefits into the summer months, and healthcare reform (in households that face food insecurity, there is often a trade-off between paying medical and grocery bills).

Food insecurity is defined as limited access to food, or by reduced access to a high-quality, varied, and/or desirable diet. Children who don’t have enough to eat can suffer from health, cognitive, and behavioral deficits that can affect them for life. Even marginal food insecurity can be associated with poor health and development in children. The Child Trends DataBank summarizes the many effects of food insecurity on children and its economic toll on our nation.

Made possible by support from the Annie E. Casey Foundation

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