Estimated 1 in 7 people face food insecurity

USDA releases hunger report revealing a slight decline in food insecurity since 2011.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released its annual report, Household Food Security in the United States 2013 revealing that 14.3% of U.S. households were food-insecure in 2013. This number is a slight decline since 2011 but remains well above the rates of food insecurity recorded before the recession.

In 2008, the number of food-insecure Americans increased by more than 30% as a result of the recession and has remained above 14%. The USDA defines food insecurity as "when consistent access to adequate food is limited by a lack of money and other resources at times during the year."  

Given improvements in employment and other economic indicators, some have wondered why food security has been slow to improve. Alisha Coleman-James, economist in USDA’s Economic Research Service’s food assistance branch, said that while unemployment decline in 2012 and 2013, inflation and the price of food relative to other goods and services continued to increase.  

“These increases offset improvements in food security that might have resulted from the decline in unemployment,” she said.

The percentage of U.S. households that were food insecure remained essentially unchanged from 2012 to 2013; however, food insecurity declined from 2011 to 2013, USDA said. The percentage of households with food insecurity in the severe range—described as very low food security— was essentially unchanged.

In 2013, 85.7% of U.S. households were food secure throughout the year. The remaining 14.3% (17.5 million households) were food insecure. Food-insecure house-holds (those with low and very low food security) had difficulty at some time during the year providing enough food for all their members due to a lack of resources. The change from 2012 (14.5%) was not statistically significant; however, the cumulative decline from 2011 (14.9%) was statistically significant.

In 2013, 5.6% of U.S. households (6.8 million households) had very low food security, essentially unchanged from 5.7% in 2011 and 2012. In this more severe range of food insecurity, the food intake of some household members was reduced and normal eating patterns were disrupted at times during the year due to limited resources.

Children and adults were food insecure at times during the year in 9.9% of households with children, USDA said. At times during the year, these 3.8 million households were unable to provide adequate, nutritious food for their children. The percentage of households with food-insecure children was essentially unchanged from 2011 and 2012 (10.0% in each year).

“Most parents try to protect their children from food insecurity, to the extent they can. So in about half of these food-insecure households, only adults were food insecure,” said Coleman-Jensen.

The prevalence of food insecurity varied considerably from State to State. Estimated prevalence of food insecurity in 2011-13 ranged from 8.7% in North Dakota to 21.2% in Arkansas; estimated prevalence rates of very low food security ranged from 3.1% in North Dakota to 8.4% in Arkansas.

The typical food-secure household spent 30 percent more for food than the typical food-insecure house­hold of the same size and composition, including food purchased with Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits (formerly the Food Stamp Program).

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