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America's Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2013

Food Security

A family's ability to provide for its children's nutritional needs is linked to the family's food security—that is, to its access at all times to adequate food for an active, healthy life for all household members.37 The food security status of households is based on self-reports of difficulty in obtaining enough food, reduced food intake, reduced diet quality, and anxiety about an adequate food supply. In some households classified as food insecure, only adults' diets and food intakes were affected, but in a majority of such households, children's eating patterns were also disrupted to some extent, and the quality and variety of their diets were adversely affected.38 In a subset of food-insecure households—those classified as having very low food security among children—a parent or guardian reported that at some time during the year one or more children were hungry, skipped a meal, or did not eat for a whole day because the household could not afford enough food.39

Indicator Econ3: Percentage of children ages 0–17 in food-insecure households by poverty status, selected years 1995–2011
Percentage of children ages 0–17 in food-insecure households by poverty status, selected years 1995–2011

NOTE: Food-insecure households are those in which either adults or children or both were "food insecure," meaning that, at times, they were unable to acquire adequate food for active, healthy living because the household had insufficient money and other resources for food. Statistics for 1996–1998 and 2000 are omitted because they are not directly comparable with those for other years.

SOURCE: U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey Food Security Supplement; tabulated by Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service and Food and Nutrition Service.

  • About 16.7 million children (22 percent of all children) lived in households that were classified as food insecure in 2011.40 About 845,000 of these children (1 percent of all children) lived in households classified as having very low food security among children.
  • The percentage of children living in food-insecure households in 2011 was essentially unchanged from 2010 (22 percent) and remained higher than the 17 percent observed in 2007. The percentage of children living in households with very low food security among children did not change significantly between 2010 and 2011 (1.3 and 1.1 percent, respectively).
  • In 2011, the percentages of children living in food-insecure households were substantially above the national average of 22 percent for the following groups: those living in households with incomes below the Federal poverty threshold (46 percent), Black, non-Hispanics (32 percent), Hispanics (35 percent), those whose parents or guardians lacked a high school diploma or General Educational Development (GED) certificate (43 percent), and those living with a single mother (40 percent).

table icon ECON3 HTML Table

37 Anderson, S.A. (Ed.). (1990). Core indicators of nutritional state for difficult-to-sample populations. Journal of Nutrition 120(11S), 1557–1600.

38 Nord, M. (2009). Food insecurity in households with children: Prevalence, severity, and household characteristics (Economic Information Bulletin No. 56). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service. Retrieved from http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/eib-economic-information-bulletin/eib56.aspx.

39 In reports prior to 2006, households with "very low food security among children" were described as "food insecure with hunger among children." The methods used to assess children's food security remained unchanged, so the statistics for 2005 and later years are directly comparable with those for 2004 and earlier years. For further information see: http://ers.usda.gov/topics/food-nutrition-assistance/food-security-in-the-us/definitions-of-food-security.aspx.

40 Coleman-Jensen, A., Nord, M., Andrews, M., and Carlson, S. (2012). Household food security in the United States in 2011 (Economic Research Report 141). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service. Retrieved from http://ers.usda.gov/publications/err-economic-research-report/err141.aspx.