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America's Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2021

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-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.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, 40

Indicator ECON3: Percentage of children ages 0–17 in food-insecure households by poverty status, 2007–2019
Indicator ECON3: Percentage of children ages 0–17 in food-insecure households by poverty status, 2007–2019

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.

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 2019, 10.7 million children (15% of all children) lived in households classified as food insecure.
  • The percentage of children living in food-insecure households increased from 17% in 2007 to a high of 23% in 2009 during the Great Recession. The percentage has since declined and in 2019 was at the lowest recorded level. The percentage of children living in food-insecure households in 2019 (15%) was not statistically different from the percentage in 2018 (15%).
  • Patterns across income groups have followed similar trends and have had consistent rankings over time. The percentage of children living in food-insecure households has been highest for those with annual incomes below the official poverty line, followed by those with incomes at 100%–199% of the poverty line, and lowest for those with incomes at or above 200% of the poverty line. In 2019, 37% of children in households with incomes below 100% of the poverty line were food insecure (substantially above the national average), whereas 6% of children in households with incomes below 200% of the poverty line were food insecure (well below the national average).
  • In 2019, the percentages of children living in food-insecure households were above the national average of 15% for those whose parents or guardians were Black, non-Hispanic (24%); those whose parents or guardians were Hispanic (19%); those whose parents or guardians lacked a high school diploma or General Educational Development (GED) certificate (35%); those whose parents or guardians highest level of education is high school/GED (24%); those whose parents or guardians highest level of education is some college (19%); those living with a single mother (30%); and those living with a single father (16%).
  • In 2019, the percentages of children living in food- insecure households were below the national average of 15% for those whose parents or guardians were White, non-Hispanic (11%), those whose parents or guardians highest level of education is a bachelor's degree or higher (6%), and those whose parents or guardians are married (9%).

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

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 https://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/food-nutrition-assistance/food-security-in-the-us/definitions-of-food-security/.

40 Coleman-Jensen, A., Rabbitt, M. P., Gregory, C., & Singh, A. (2020). Household food security in the United States in 2019 (Economic Research Report No. 275). U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service. https://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/pub-details/?pubid=99281