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America's Children in Brief: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2016

Food Insecurity

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.22 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.23 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.24

Figure 8: Percentage of children ages 0–17 in food-insecure households by race and Hispanic origin of household reference person, 2001–2014
Percentage of children ages 0–17 in food-insecure households by race and Hispanic origin of household reference person, 2001–2014

NOTE: Food-insecure households are those in which either adults, 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. Race and Hispanic origin are those of the household reference person. The revised 1997 Office of Management and Budget Standards for Data on Race and Ethnicity were implemented in 2003. Included in the total, but not shown separately, are American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, and "Two or more races." From 2003 onward, statistics for White, non-Hispanics and Black, non-Hispanics exclude persons who indicated "Two or more races." Data on race and Hispanic origin are collected separately.

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 2014, the percentages of children living in food-insecure households were substantially above the national average (21 percent) for Black, non-Hispanics (34 percent) and Hispanics (29 percent), while below the national average for White, non-Hispanics (15 percent).
  • From 2001 to 2014, the percentage of children living in food-insecure households was 18 percent in 2001, 19 percent in 2004, 17 percent in 2007, then increased to 23 percent in 2008, and has remained above pre-Great Recession levels.
  • Over the same period (from 2001 to 2014), compared with all households with children, the percentages of children living in food-insecure households declined more sharply for Hispanics between 2003 and 2005 following the end of the 2001 recession, and increased more sharply for Hispanics and Black, non-Hispanics in 2008 with the onset of the Great Recession.

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22 Anderson, S. A. (Ed.). (1990). Core indicators of nutritional state for difficult-to-sample populations. Journal of Nutrition, 120 (11S), 1557–1600. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2243305

23 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). Retrieved from http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/eib-economic-information-bulletin/eib113

24 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.