Children’s good health and development depend on a diet sufficient in nutrients and calories. Food security has been defined as access at all times to enough nourishment for an active, healthy life. At a minimum, food security includes the ready availability of sufficient, nutritionally adequate and safe food, and the assurance that families can obtain adequate food without relying on emergency feeding programs or resorting to scavenging, stealing, or other desperate efforts to secure food.19 A family’s ability to provide for children’s nutritional needs is linked to income or other resources and secure access to adequate, nutritious food.
Members of food-insecure households are at risk of hunger, that is, the uneasy or painful sensation caused by a lack of food. The following indicator measures food insecurity on a scale that indicates increasing levels of severity of food insecurity and accompanying hunger. Food-insecure households without hunger report having difficulty obtaining enough food, reduced quality of diets, anxiety about their food supply, and increased resort to emergency food sources and other coping behaviors, but do not report hunger to a significant degree. However, food-insecure households with moderate and severe hunger report increasing difficulty obtaining food and decreased food intakes.20
- In 1995, 12.8 percent of children lived in households experiencing food insecurity. This rose slightly to 15.0 percent in 1998 and then decreased to 13.1 percent in 1999. This trend is also evident for children in homes with incomes below the federal poverty level and for children in homes with incomes at or above the poverty level (see Table ES 4.2).
- In 1999, 3.8 percent of children lived in households experiencing food insecurity with moderate or severe hunger; 3.3 percent experienced food insecurity with moderate hunger and 0.5 percent experienced severe hunger (see Figure ES 4.2 and Table ES 4.2).
- Poor children are much more likely than others to live in households experiencing food insecurity with moderate to severe hunger. In 1999, 11.8 percent of children in homes with incomes below the federal poverty level lived in households experiencing food insecurity with moderate to severe hunger, compared to 1.9 percent of children in nonpoor households.
- Most food-insecure households do not report actual hunger for household members. In 1999, 13.1 percent of all children and 32.2 percent of poor children lived in households experiencing food insecurity without hunger evident.
- The number of children who actually experience hunger themselves, even though they may live in a food-insecure household where one or more family members experience hunger, is believed to be significantly smaller than the total number of children living in such households. This is because in most such households the adults go without food, if necessary, so that the children will have food.
Table ES 4.2 Percentage of children under age 18 in the United States living in households experiencing food insecurity,a by severity and poverty status: 1995-1999
|Food insecure without hunger||12.8||13.0||11.3||15.0||13.1|
|Food insecure with moderate or severe hunger||6.2||6.2||4.2||4.7||3.8|
|Food insecure with moderate hunger||5.2||5.2||3.5||4.0||3.3|
|Food insecure with severe hunger||1.0||1.0||0.7||0.7||0.5|
|Children below poverty line|
|Food insecure without hunger||26.6||28.7||26.8||34.5||32.2|
|Food insecure with moderate or severe hunger||15.7||17.4||11.1||14.2||11.8|
|Food insecure with moderate hunger||12.8||13.9||9.2||11.8||10.2|
|Food insecure with severe hunger||2.9||3.5||1.9||2.4||1.6|
|Children at or above poverty line|
|Food insecure without hunger||7.9||8.5||6.7||10.3||8.7|
|Food insecure with moderate or severe hunger||3.0||3.1||2.1||2.3||1.9|
|Food insecure with moderate hunger||2.6||2.8||1.8||1.9||1.6|
|Food insecure with severe hunger||0.4||0.3||0.3||0.4||0.3|
a The food security scale provides a near-continuous measure of the level of food insecurity and hunger experienced within each household. A categorical measure based on the scale classifies households according to four designated levels of household food security: food-secure, food-insecure without hunger, food-insecure with moderate hunger, and food- insecure with severe hunger. Food-secure households are households that do not report a significant number of instances of difficulty obtaining enough quality food. Food-insecure households without hunger report having difficulty obtaining enough food, reduced quality of diets, anxiety about their food supply, and increasing resort to emergency food sources and other coping behaviors, but do not report hunger to a significant degree. Food-insecure households with moderate hunger report food insecurity and significant instances of hunger for one or more adults and, in some cases, for children. Food-insecure households with severe hunger report food insecurity and significant instances of hunger for adults and children. For a detailed explanation of the new USDA/DHHS Food Security Measurement scale, see Household Food Security in the United States in 1995 (USDA, Food and Nutrition Service, 1997).
Source: Food Security Supplement to the April 1995, September 1996, and April 1997 Current Population Survey, Table ECON4.A.
Figure ES 4.2 Percentage of children under age 18 in the United States living in households experiencing food insecurity, by severity and poverty status: 1999
Source: Food Security Supplement to the April 1997, Current Population Survey.
19 Life Sciences Research Office and American Institute of Nutrition. 1990. Core Indicators of Nutritional State for Difficult to Sample Populations. Bethesda, MD: Author.
20 See the note to Table ES 4.2 for a description of the Food Security Supplement to the Current Population Survey and for details on the food security scale.
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