Food Insecurity

Publication Date:

Sep 17, 2018

Key facts about food insecurity

• While the proportion of children living in food-insecure households in 2016 was similar to that in 1995 (18 and 19 percent, respectively), it has fluctuated over the years, peaking at 23 percent in 2009.
• Household food insecurity was almost twice as prevalent in 2016 among children in households headed by non-Hispanic black (26 percent) or Hispanic (24 percent) parents than in those headed by non-Hispanic white (13 percent) parents.
• In 2016, the prevalence of household food insecurity among children was three times as high in households headed by single women as in those headed by married couples (33 and 11 percent, respectively).

Trends in food insecurity

In 2016, 18 percent of children under age 18 (more than 13 million) lived in food-insecure households, and 1 percent lived in households with very low food security among children (not including households where only adults are food-insecure) (Appendix 1).

Household food insecurity among children rose from 1999 to 2004, reflecting a slowing economy. In 2005, the rate of household food insecurity among children declined; it then remained fairly constant (at 17 percent) until 2008, when it rose to 23 percent. Since then, the rate has steadily decreased, reaching 18 percent in 2016 (Appendix 1). The prevalence of very low food security among children remained essentially the same from 1999 to 2006, at around 0.6 to 0.8 percent, but increased in 2007 to 0.9 percent, and to 1.5 percent in 2008. However, the rate has declined to 1.0 percent as of 2016 (Appendix 2).

Differences by race and Hispanic origin

In 2016, household food insecurity was almost twice as prevalent among children in households headed by non-Hispanic black (26 percent) or Hispanic adults (24 percent) than in those headed by non-Hispanic white adults (13 percent) (Appendix 1). The proportion of households in which children had “very low food security” was roughly three to four times as high in non-Hispanic black or Hispanic households as in non-Hispanic white households (Appendix 2).

Differences by family structure

In 2016, household food insecurity among children was three times as prevalent in households headed by single women as in those headed by married couples (33 and 11 percent, respectively), and was higher than in households headed by single men (23 percent) (Appendix 1). Children in households headed by a single woman were also more than three times as likely as children in households headed by a married couple to experience very low food security themselves, at 2.0 and 0.6 percent, respectively (Appendix 2).

Differences by household income

From 1999 to 2015, the percentage of children living in households with incomes below the federal poverty level who were also food-insecure was more than twice as high as among all households; however, this difference in 2010 was the smallest ever recorded (Appendix 1). In 2015, the prevalence of very low food security among children was three times as high among poor households as among all households (Appendix 2).

Forty-two (42) percent of all children in households with annual incomes below the federal poverty line were living with household food insecurity in 2016, and 3.3 percent were living with very low food security. Differences by income group in the proportion of children in food-insecure households narrowed from 2001 to 2010, but have increased since then. In 2011, most households (75 percent) with food-insecure children had at least one adult in the workforce, including 60 percent with a full-time adult worker (appendices 1 and 2).

Other estimates

State and local estimates
State-level data for 2014–2016 on food insecurity among households (regardless of the presence of children) are available at: Coleman-Jensen, A., Rabbitt, M. P., Gregory, C. A., & Singh, A. (2017). Household food security in the United States in 2016 [Table 4] (Economic Research Report No. 237). Washington, DC: United States Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service. Retrieved from https://www.ers.usda.gov/webdocs/publications/84973/err-237.pdf?v=42979.
A 2016–2017 survey conducted by the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), using questions similar but not identical to those used by the U.S. Department of Agriculture surveys, produced estimates of “food hardship” for the nation, states, and metropolitan statistical areas. See http://www.frac.org/wp-content/uploads/food-hardship-july-2018.pdf.
Feeding America has developed synthetic estimates of child food insecurity at county and congressional district levels, as well as county-level estimates of food price variation. For more information, see http://feedingamerica.org/hunger-in-america/hunger-studies/map-the-meal-gap.aspx.

International estimates
Food security statistics for the world population can be found on the website of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations: http://www.fao.org/economic/ess/ess-fs/ess-fadata/en/.
FAO also reports on food insecurity in the developing world, by region, subregion, and country; the 2017 report is available at http://www.fao.org/3/a-I7695e.pdf.

Data and appendices

Data source
• Data for 2016: Coleman-Jensen, A., Rabbitt, M. P., Gregory, C. A., & Singh, A. (2017). Statistical supplement to household food security in the United States in 2016 [Table S-3]. Washington, DC: United States Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service. Retrieved from https://www.ers.usda.gov/webdocs/publications/84981/ap-077.pdf?v=42979.
• Data for 1995, 1999, and 2001–2015: Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics. (2017). America’s children in brief: Key national indicators of well-being, 2017 [Table ECON 3]. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from https://www.childstats.gov/americaschildren/tables/econ3.asp?popup=true.
• Data for 1998 and 2000: Coleman-Jensen, A., Gregory, C., & Singh, A. (2014). Household food security in the United States in 2013 [Table 1B]. Washington, DC: United States Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service. Retrieved from https://www.ers.usda.gov/webdocs/publications/45265/48787_err173.pdf?v=42265.

Raw data source
U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service,
Current Population Survey: Food Security Supplement.
https://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/food-security-in-the-united-states

Appendices
Appendix 1. Percentage of Children Ages 0-17 in Food-Insecure Households: Selected Years, 1995–2016
Appendix 2. Percentage of Children Ages 0-17 in Households with Very Low Food Security among Children: Selected Years, 1995–2016

Background

Definition
The United States Department of Agriculture defines food insecurity as the limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods, or limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways. Households are classified as food insecure if they reported three or more indications of food insecurity in responses to 18 questions referring to experience within the past 12 months. The food security of children in the household is assessed by responses to eight of the questions (asked only if the household included children younger than age 18).

Citation

Child Trends. (2018). Food Insecurity. Bethesda, MD: Author. Retrieved from https://www.childtrends.org/indicators/food-insecurity.