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America's Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2017

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.39 The food security status of households is based on self-reported 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 also were disrupted to some extent, and the quality and variety of their diets were adversely affected.40 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.41

Indicator ECON3: Percentage of children ages 0–17 in food-insecure households by poverty status, selected years 1995–2015
Indicator ECON3: Percentage of children ages 0–17 in food-insecure households by poverty status, selected years 1995–2015

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.

  • In 2015, 13.1 million children (18 percent of all children) lived in households that were classified as food insecure.42
  • The percentage of children living in food-insecure households in 2015 (18 percent) represented a decline from the percentage in 2014 (21 percent).
  • In 2015, the percentages of children living in food-insecure households were substantially above the national average of 18 percent for the following groups: those living in households with incomes below the Federal poverty threshold (44 percent), Black, non-Hispanics (27 percent), Hispanics (24 percent), those whose parents or guardians lacked a high school diploma or General Educational Development (GED) certificate (33 percent), those whose parents or guardian's highest level of education is high school/GED (29 percent), and those living with a single mother (33 percent).

table icon ECON3 HTML Table

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

40 Coleman-Jensen, A., McFall, W., & Nord, M. (2013). Food insecurity in households with children: Prevalence, severity, and household characteristics, 2010–11 (Economic Information Bulletin No. 113). Washington DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service. Retrieved from http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/pub-details/?pubid=43765

41 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

42 Coleman-Jensen, A., Rabbitt, M. P., Gregory, C., & Singh, A. (2016). Household food security in the United States in 2015 (Economic Research Report No. 215). Washington DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service. Retrieved from http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/pub-details/?pubid=79760