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Prevalence of U.S. food insecurity in 2019 dipped below pre-Great Recession level for the first time

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) monitors the food security status of households in the United States through an annual nationwide survey. The most recent survey contains data collected in December 2019 for the year that preceded the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2019, 89.5 percent of U.S. households were food secure, meaning they had access at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members. The remaining households (10.5 percent) were food insecure at least some time during the year, including 4.1 percent that experienced very low food security. In households with very low food security, the food intake of one or more household members was reduced and their eating patterns were disrupted at times because the household lacked money and other resources for obtaining food. The 2019 prevalence of food insecurity, at 10.5 percent, was below the 2018 prevalence of 11.1 percent; it continued to show a decline from a high of 14.9 percent in 2011 and was significantly below the 2007 pre-Great Recession level of 11.1 percent. The prevalence of very low food security was not significantly different in 2019 from in 2018, 4.1 percent compared to 4.3 percent, respectively. This chart appears in ERS’s report, Household Food Security in the United States in 2019, released September 9, 2020.

Child food insufficiency in mid-July 2020 varied by State

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

To track rapid changes in the U.S. economic landscape during the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers at the Economic Research Service (ERS) teamed up with the U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census and five other Federal agencies to produce the Household Pulse Survey. The survey ran from the week of April 23-28 to the week of July 16-21 in 2020. ERS researchers used a survey question asked during weeks 6 through 12 of the survey period about disruptions in the quantity of foods consumed by children to examine child food insufficiency for U.S. households. Households were classified as having children with food insufficiency if the survey respondent said that the children in the household were not eating enough “sometimes” or “often” in the last 7 days because the household could not afford enough food. The rate of child food insufficiency grew from a national average of 17.4 percent of U.S. households during June 4-9 to 19.9 percent at the survey’s end. During the final week of the survey, July 16-21, 18 States had child food insufficiency rates below 19.9 percent and 6 States had rates above the national average for July 16-21. The remaining 26 States and the District of Columbia had rates of food insufficiency statistically comparable to the national average. Child food insufficiency is similar in concept to the more detailed measure of “food insecurity among children” used in USDA’s annual assessments of food security to describe households that were unable at times to provide adequate, nutritious food for their children. According to USDA’s latest food security statistics, an estimated 7.7 percent of U.S. children were food insecure at some time during 2018. For more information on ERS’s food security research, see the Food Security in the U.S. topic page on the ERS website.

Food insufficiency in mid-June 2020 higher in some States than others

Friday, July 10, 2020

To keep track of the rapid changes in the U.S. economic landscape due to COVID-19, researchers at the Economic Research Service (ERS)—along with those at five other Federal agencies—teamed up with the Census Bureau to produce the Household Pulse Survey, a weekly, online data collection that asks respondents about their current educational, employment, health, housing, and food-related situations. The survey began in the week of April 23, 2020 and will continue until the end of July 2020. ERS researchers used the most recent data available from the new survey (June 18–June 23) to examine food sufficiency for U.S. households. Food sufficiency is distinct but related to food security: like USDA’s food security measure, it can tell us about disruptions in the quantity of foods consumed in a household. Households were classified as being "food insufficient" if they sometimes or often in the last 7 days reported not having enough to eat. Food insufficiency is comparable to the classification of “very low food security” used in USDA’s annual assessments of food security. Nationally, 9.7 percent of U.S. households were food insufficient that week, similar to the 9.8-percent U.S. average during April 23–May 5. Fifteen States had food insufficiency rates below 9.7 percent and 4 States had rates above this national average. The remaining 31 States and the District of Columbia had rates of food insufficiency statistically comparable to the national average. According to USDA’s latest food security statistics, an estimated 4.3 percent of U.S. households experienced very low food security at some time during 2018 where the food intake of some household members was reduced and normal eating patterns were disrupted due to a lack of money or other resources. The data for this chart are drawn from the Census Household Pulse Survey. For more information on ERS’s food security research, see the Food Security in the U.S. topic page on the ERS website.

Food insecurity rates vary across States

Friday, May 8, 2020

USDA monitors the extent of food insecurity in U.S. households at the national and State levels through an annual U.S. Census Bureau survey. Food-insecure households are defined as those that had difficulty at some time during the year providing enough food for all of their members due to a lack of resources. Food insecurity rates vary across States because of differing characteristics of the population, State-level policies, and economic conditions. Data for 2016-18 were combined to provide more reliable State statistics than one year alone would provide. The estimated prevalence of food insecurity during 2016-18 ranged from 7.8 percent of the households in New Hampshire to 16.8 percent in New Mexico with a national average of 11.7 percent. In 12 States, the prevalence of food insecurity was higher than the 2016-18 national average, and in 16 States, it was lower than the national average. In the remaining 22 States and the District of Columbia, differences from the national average were not statistically significant. This map appears in the Food Security and Nutrition Assistance section of the Economic Research Service’s Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials.

Among low-income households, nutrition scores of some dietary components are lower for those that are food-insecure

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

USDA monitors U.S. food security using a series of questions largely focused on whether a household can obtain sufficient quantities of food. However, the quality of foods acquired also affects personal wellbeing. USDA’s National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS) is unique among Federal surveys in that it collected information on both purchased foods and foods obtained for free, such as from food pantries and free school meals. Economic Research Service (ERS) researchers used FoodAPS data to examine the nutritional quality of a week’s worth of food at home—foods acquired at supermarkets, supercenters, farmers’ markets, convenience stores, and food pantries. The researchers focused on low-income households. They used the Healthy Eating Index-2010, which summarizes how well a set of foods compares to recommendations in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, to assess diet quality. The index compiles scores for 12 components made up of specific food groups and subgroups. After controlling for individual- and household-level characteristics, only a handful of differences were associated with household food insecurity. For every 1,000 calories of food at home acquired, low-income food-insecure households acquired less total fruit, whole fruit, total protein, and seafood and plant proteins compared with low-income food-secure households. An extended version of this chart appears in “Food-Insecure Households Score Lower on Diet Quality Compared to Food-Secure Households,” in ERS’s March 2020 Amber Waves magazine.

Food insecurity among children most prevalent among single-mother households and low-income households in 2018

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

In 2018, one child or more was food insecure in 7.1 percent of U.S. households with children. These 2.7 million households with food insecurity among children were unable at one or more times during the year to provide adequate, nutritious food for their children due to a lack of money or other resources for obtaining food. However, food insecurity among children varied widely by household characteristics. Food insecurity among children was more than twice the national rate in female-headed households with children (15.9 percent), households with children headed by Black, non-Hispanic adults (14.8 percent), and low-income households with incomes below 185 percent of the Federal poverty line (16.5 percent). Food insecurity among children was also higher than the national average in households with children in principal cities of metropolitan areas (9.1 percent). This chart appears in the article, “Food Insecurity Among Children Has Declined Overall But Remains High for Some Groups,” in the December 2019 issue of the Economic Research Service’s Amber Waves magazine.

Food insecurity among children was at lowest recorded rate in 2018

Friday, February 28, 2020

Food-insecure households have difficulty providing enough food for all members due to a lack of money or other resources for obtaining food. USDA measures food insecurity in households with children in several different ways. In 2018, 13.9 percent of U.S. households with children were food insecure: in these households, someone was food insecure, but not necessarily the children. In a little over half of these households—7.1 percent of U.S. households with children—both children and adults were food insecure. Both of these indicators, food insecurity in households with children and food insecurity among children, were at their lowest levels since 1998. The prevalence of very low food security among children was 0.6 percent in 2018. In these households experiencing the more severe range of food insecurity, caregivers reported that children were hungry, skipped a meal, or did not eat for a whole day because there was not enough money for food. This chart appears in “Food Insecurity Among Children Has Declined Overall But Remains High for Some Groups” in the December 2019 issue of the USDA, Economic Research Service Amber Waves magazine.

Food-insecure households purchase less fruit than food-secure households

Friday, February 7, 2020

ERS researchers used data from USDA’s National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS) to examine purchases of fruit from supermarkets, supercenters, convenience stores, and other retailers (food-at-home purchases) by two groups of low-income households: food-secure and food-insecure households. Food-secure households have consistent, dependable access to enough food for active, healthy living; food-insecure households do not. The researchers looked at total fruit purchases (whole and juices) and whole fruit purchases. They converted household purchases to “per adult equivalents,” where household members are scaled by daily calorie requirements based on their age and sex using 2,000 calories as an adult equivalent. The conversion accounts for differences in household size and composition. The researchers found that low-income food-secure households purchased 7.1 cup equivalents of fruit per adult equivalent per week, versus the 3.6 cups purchased by low-income food insecure households. In terms of whole fruit, food-insecure households purchased just under 2 cup equivalents per adult equivalent per week, while food-secure households purchased 4 cups per adult equivalent. This chart appears in the August 2019 ERS report, Food Security and Food Purchase Quality Among Low-Income Households: Findings From the National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS).

Food-insecure households spend less on food and acquire fewer calories than food-secure households

Friday, January 24, 2020

Household food insecurity—a lack of access to enough food for all household members to have healthy, active lives—is strongly correlated with a variety of costly, chronic illnesses and conditions in both adults and children. In a recent report, ERS researchers used data collected in USDA’s National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS) to examine differences in spending on and calories acquired from food at home (food from large and small grocery stores, specialty stores, and food pantries) by two groups of low-income households—food-secure and food-insecure households. The researchers converted household spending and acquired calories to “per adult equivalents”, where household members are scaled by daily calorie requirements based on their age and sex using 2,000 calories as an adult equivalent. The conversion accounts for differences in household size and composition. The researchers found that low-income food-insecure households spent almost $13 less per adult equivalent per week on food at home, and they acquired 5,170 fewer calories per adult equivalent per week from purchased and free at-home foods than low-income food-secure households. Spending on and calories acquired from eating out places were similar for the two low-income groups. This chart appears in “Food-Insecure Households Spend Less and Acquire Less Food Per Week Than Food-Secure Households” in the October 2019 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.

Prevalence of food insecurity varies by length of reference period

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Food insecure households have difficulty providing adequate food for all their members due to a lack of money or other resources for obtaining food. Those households experiencing the more severe very low food security face reduced food intake and disrupted eating patterns at times during the year. The food security measurement methods used by ERS are designed to identify occasional or episodic occurrences of food insecurity at any time in the past 12 months. Additional questions in the food-security survey provide information on whether food insecurity or very low food security occurred in the 30 days prior to the December survey. In 2018, food insecurity was experienced by 11.1 percent of U.S. households at any time during the year and by 5.9 percent of U.S. households from mid-November to mid-December. In 2018, very low food security affected 4.3 percent of U.S. households at any time during the year, and 2.4 percent of households from mid-November to mid-December, and 0.6 to 0.8 percent of U.S. households on any day in that 30-day period. This chart appears in the ERS report, Household Food Security in the United States in 2018, released in September 2019.

Food-insecure households spend more of their food-at-home dollars at convenience stores

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

While most households in the United States are food secure, meaning they have access to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members, some U.S. households are food insecure. In a food-insecure household, not all members have enough food at all times to live active, healthy lives. ERS researchers examined the food purchases of low-income food-insecure households and compared them to purchases of low-income food-secure households with similar characteristics. In particular, they examined differences in the types of places at which the two household groups spent their at-home food dollars using data from USDA’s National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS). The researchers found that food-insecure households made nearly 20 percent of their food-at-home purchases at convenience stores, while food-secure households spent 10 percent of their food-at-home dollars at convenience stores. Food-secure households spent a larger share of their food-at-home budgets at traditional grocery stores or supermarkets and at large warehouse club stores or supercenters. The data for the chart come from the ERS report, Food Security and Food Purchase Quality Among Low-Income Households: Findings From the National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS), published August 2019.

Prevalence of food insecurity in 2018 was down from 2017

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

USDA’s Economic Research Service annually monitors the food security status of U.S. households. In 2018, an estimated 88.9 percent of U.S. households were food secure throughout the entire year, meaning they had access at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members. The remaining households (11.1 percent) were food insecure at least some time during the year, including 4.3 percent that experienced very low food security. In very-low-food-secure households, the food intake of one or more household members was reduced and their eating patterns were disrupted at times because the household lacked money and other resources for obtaining food. The prevalence of food insecurity overall declined from 11.8 percent in 2017. This change was statistically significant and continued a decline from a high of 14.9 percent in 2011. Very low food security was not significantly different from its 4.5-percent rate in 2017. This chart appears in the ERS report, Household Food Security in the United States in 2018, released September 4, 2019.

ICYMI... Disability status can influence the risk of experiencing food insecurity

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Households with adult members who have a disability are at higher risk of experiencing food insecurity—having to struggle at some time during the year to provide enough food for all their members. U.S. households that included adults with disabilities who were not in the labor force due to disability had the highest food insecurity rate in 2017 at 32.3 percent, followed by households with working-age adults with disabilities not out of the labor force due to disability at 22.0 percent. Households with elderly adults with disabilities do not appear to have as great a risk for food insecurity. In 2017, 9.0 percent of these households were food insecure, a rate similar to that of households with no adults with disabilities. Elderly adults with disabilities may have developed their disabilities after their working years and have savings and/or more stable income sources, such as Social Security or pensions, than working-age adults with disabilities. Among all food-insecure households in 2017, 41 percent included an adult with a disability. A version of this chart appears in the ERS data visualization “Food insecurity and very low food security by education, employment, disability status, and SNAP participation.” This Chart of Note was originally published April 2, 2019.

Disability status can influence the risk of experiencing food insecurity

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Households with adult members who have a disability are at higher risk of experiencing food insecurity—having to struggle at some time during the year to provide enough food for all their members. U.S. households that included adults with disabilities who were not in the labor force due to disability had the highest food insecurity rate in 2017 at 32.3 percent, followed by households with working-age adults with disabilities not out of the labor force due to disability at 22.0 percent. Households with elderly adults with disabilities do not appear to have as great a risk for food insecurity. In 2017, 9.0 percent of these households were food insecure, a rate similar to that of households with no adults with disabilities. Elderly adults with disabilities may have developed their disabilities after their working years and have savings and/or more stable income sources, such as Social Security or pensions, than working-age adults with disabilities. Among all food-insecure households in 2017, 41 percent included an adult with a disability. A version of this chart appears in the ERS data visualization "Food insecurity and very low food security by education, employment, disability status, and SNAP participation."

Food pantry use by food-insecure households in 2017 was about five times the rate for all U.S. households

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

In 2017, 4.7 percent of U.S. households reported getting emergency food from food pantries. Food pantries distribute unprepared foods for families to prepare at home. Using a food pantry is more common among food-insecure households—those that have difficulty at some time during the year providing enough food for all their members—than among the general population or food-secure households. In 2017, 26 percent of food-insecure households used a food pantry—more than five times the rate for all U.S. households—which is down from 28.2 percent in 2015 but higher than the 18.6 percent that visited food pantries in 2001. The greater use of food pantries in recent years is likely due in part to greater need, as the national prevalence of food insecurity was higher in 2017 than it was in 2001. In addition to more need, greater use of food pantries over time may also be due to an increase in the number of food pantries. This chart appears in “Food Pantries Provide Emergency Food to More Than One-Quarter of Food-Insecure Households” in the November 2018 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.

Prevalence of food insecurity varies across the country

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

USDA monitors the extent of food insecurity in U.S. households at the national and State levels. Food-insecure households are defined as those that had difficulty at some time during the year providing enough food for all of their members due to a lack of resources. Food insecurity rates vary across States because of differing characteristics of the population, State-level policies, and economic conditions. The estimated prevalence of food insecurity during 2015-17 ranged from 7.4 percent of the population in Hawaii to 17.9 percent in New Mexico. Data for 2015-17 were combined to provide more reliable State statistics than 1 year alone would provide. In 11 States, the prevalence of food insecurity was higher than the 2015-17 national average of 12.3 percent, and in 15 States, it was lower than the national average. In the remaining 24 States and the District of Columbia, differences from the national average were not statistically significant. This map appears in ERS’s Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials.

Prevalence of food insecurity varied by household characteristics in 2017

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

While the majority of U.S. households are food secure, a minority experience food insecurity at times during the year, meaning their access to adequate food for active, healthy living is limited by a lack of money or other resources. Some households experience very low food security, a more severe range of food insecurity, where the food intake of one or more household members is reduced and normal eating patterns are disrupted. Food insecurity includes both very low food security and low food security. In 2017, 11.8 percent of all U.S households were food insecure. The prevalence of food insecurity was substantially higher for low-income households; 36.8 percent of households with incomes below the Federal poverty line were food insecure. Among all U.S. households, food insecurity rates were the highest for single-mother households (30.3 percent) and lowest for multiple-adult households with no children (7.7 percent). A version of this chart appears in the ERS report, Household Food Security in the United States in 2017, September 2018.

Prevalence of food insecurity in 2017 was down from 2016

Thursday, September 6, 2018

In 2017, 88.2 percent of American households were food secure throughout the year. The remaining households (11.8 percent) were food insecure, meaning they had difficulty at some time during the year providing enough food for all their members because of a lack of resources. The decline in food insecurity prevalence from 12.3 percent of U.S. households in 2016 is statistically significant. Over a third of food-insecure households (4.5 percent of U.S. households) experienced very low food security in 2017, meaning that at times the food intake of one or more household members was reduced and their eating patterns were disrupted because the household lacked money and other resources for food. The prevalence of very low food security was also significantly lower than in 2016, when it stood at 4.9 percent of U.S. households. This chart appears in the ERS report, Household Food Security in the United States in 2017, released September 5, 2018.

Multiple-adult households without children account for over a quarter of U.S. food-insecure households

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

The prevalence of food insecurity—having difficulty providing enough food for all household members at some time during the year—varies across U.S. demographic groups. While some types of households may be less likely to be food insecure, the household groups could be so large that the households in the groups who are experiencing food insecurity make up a large share of all food-insecure households. For example, multiple-adult households without children had a lower food insecurity prevalence (8.0 percent) than single-mother households (31.6 percent) and single-father households (21.7 percent) in 2016. However, in the Nation as a whole, multiple-adult households without children—households that include married and unmarried couples with no children, or grown children, as well as households made up of relatives or roommates over the age of 18—are more numerous than single-parent households, so these multiple-adult households make up a larger share of all food-insecure households. In 2016, multiple-adult households without children accounted for 27 percent of all food-insecure households; single-mother households accounted for 20 percent; and single-father households accounted for 4 percent. A version of this chart appears in "Understanding the Prevalence, Severity, and Distribution of Food Insecurity in the United States" in the September 2017 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.

Rural households account for nearly one-fifth of U.S. food-insecure households

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Some U.S. demographic groups are more likely than others to be food insecure—meaning they struggled at some time during the year to provide enough food for all their members. Understanding which groups are at increased risk of food insecurity is helpful for targeting assistance to those most in need, as is understanding the frequency of a group’s occurrence in the food-insecure population. A group could have a relatively low risk of food insecurity, but be so large that the members of the group who are experiencing food insecurity make up a large share of all food-insecure households. For example, while the prevalence of food insecurity in 2016 was relatively low for households in suburbs or exurbs of principal cities (9.5 percent), this group accounted for one-third of food insecure households. Rural households had a food insecurity rate of 15 percent in 2016 and accounted for 18 percent of food-insecure households—a higher share than their 14-percent share of all U.S. households. A version of this chart appears in "Understanding the Prevalence, Severity, and Distribution of Food Insecurity in the United States" in the September 2017 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.

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