More than 15 million U.S. children live in “food-insecure” households — having limited access to adequate food and nutrition due to cost, proximity and/or other resources.1 Low income individuals are at increased risk for both food insecurity and obesity. Lower-income individuals often have more limited access to affordable, healthier food options — living in neighborhoods with fewer grocery stores with less healthy options — and that have more available less expensive food options, such as processed or fast foods, are of lower nutritional value and are calorie-dense with added sugar and/ or fats.2,3,4 In addition, some families have cycles of food deprivation and overindulgence — where they restrict or skip meals sometimes due to lack of funds — which can contribute to increased risk for obesity. In addition, stress, anxiety and less access to safe, convenient places for physical activity can contribute to increased risk for obesity.
Food insecurity is particularly concentrated in different areas around the country — in 321 counties, the average food insecurity rate is 23 percent, while in the other 2,821 counties, the average rate is 15 percent.5 Fifty percent of the high food-insecurity counties are in rural areas, 26 percent are metropolitan and 90 percent are in the South.
Rates of child food insecurity range from a low of 8.5 percent in North Dakota to a high of 20.8 percent in Mississippi. Very low food security — when one or more members of a household reduces their food intake or disrupts their eating patterns because of insuf cient money and other food resources — range from 2.9 percent in North Dakota to 7.9 percent in Mississippi.6 According to a review by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, food insecurity in states varies by, and depends on, household factors, such as income, employment and household structure (i.e. single parents), as well as state-level characteristics, such as average wages, cost of housing, levels of participation in food assistance programs (including summer meal programs for children) and tax policies.7
Child Food Insecurity in The United States
- Low-income Americans (at/under 100 percent of the FPL) spend a larger percentage of their income on food (16.1 percent) but spend less in real dollar amounts ($35 per person per week) than do higher-income Americans (13.2 percent; $50 per person per week).8,9
- Approximately 25 percent of Black and Latino families experience food-insecurity compared to 11 percent of White households.10Black and Latino families have earned $1 for every $2 earned by White families for the past 30 years.11
- Nearly 60 percent of counties where Native American/Alaska Natives make up the majority population have the highest food-insecurity rates in the nation. Among all 3,142 Native American/Alaska Native counties, those living in Apache County, Arizona (at 42 percent) and Wade Hampton, Alaska (at 40 percent) have the highest child food-insecurity in the nation, approximately double the national rate of 20.9 percent.12,13
- Black and Latino families spend around $10 per person per week less on food ($40 to $44) compared with White families ($50).14 ZIP codes with the highest concentration of Blacks have about half the number of chain supermarkets as ZIP codes with the highest concentration of Whites, and ZIP codes with the highest concentrations of Latinos have only one third as many.15 Many of these same neighborhoods also are struggling with high rates of obesity and unemployment and depressed economies.
- Among counties where Native American/Alaska Natives are the majority population, the average meal price was $3.18, and went as high as $4.14, compared with the average meal across all U.S. counties of $2.82. Those same counties are also grappling with high levels of poverty (at 32 percent) and unemployment (at 10.8 percent).16
More than 29 million Americans live in “food deserts,” meaning they do not have a supermarket or supercenter within a mile of their home if they live in an urban area, or within 10 miles of their home if they live in a rural area, making it challenging to access healthy, affordable food.17
- Families in predominantly minority and low-income neighborhoods have limited access to supermarkets and fresh produce. Greater accessibility to supermarkets is consistently linked to lower rates of overweight and obesity.18 Studies have found that there is less access to supermarkets and nutritious, fresh foods in many urban and lower-income neighborhoods and less healthy items are also often more heavily marketed at the point-ofpurchase through product placement in these stores.19,20
1 Coleman-Jensen A, Rabbitt MP, Gregory C, et al. Household Food Security in the United States in 2015, ERR-215. Washington D.C.: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Services, 2016 (accessed September 2016).
3 Trehaft S and Karpyn. The Grocery Gap. Who Has Access to Healthy Food and Why It Matters. Philadelphia, PA: The Food Trust and PolicyLink, 2013 (accessed July 2016).
4 Bell J, Mora G, Hagan E, et al. Access to Healthy Food and Why It Matters: A Review of the Research. Philadelphia, PA: The Food Trust and PolicyLink, 2013 (accessed July 2016).
5 Feeding America. Map the Meal Gap, 2016. Highlights of the Finding for Overall and Child Food Insecurity (accessed May 2016).
6 Coleman-Jensen A, et al., ERR-215, 2016.
7 Bartfeld J, Dunifon R, Nord M, et al. What Factors Account for State-to-State Differences in Food Security? Economic Information Bulletin No. 20. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, 2006 (accessed May 2016).
8 100 Years of U.S. Consumer Spending: Data for the Nation, New York City, and Boston. In Bureau of Labor Statistics. (accessed April 2015).
9 Coleman-Jensen A, Gregory C, Singh A. Household Food Security in the United States in 2013, ERR-173, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, September 2014 (accessed April 2015).
10 Coleman-Jensen A, et al., ERR-194, 2015.
11 McKernan S, Ratcliffe C, Steuerle E, et al. Less Than Equal: Racial Disparities in Wealth Accumulation. Washington, D.C.: Urban Institute, 2013 (accessed May 2014).
12 Waxman E. Mapping Food Insecurity and Distress in American Indian and Alaska Na-tive Communities. Urban Institute May 11, 2016 (accessed May 2016).
13 Child Food Insecurity in the United States, 2014. In Feeding America, 2016 (accessed May 2016).
14 Coleman-Jensen A, et al., ERR-194, 2015.
15 Morton LW. Access to Affordable & Nutritious Food: Understanding Food Deserts. USDA ERS Workshop Powerpoint, 2008 (accessed April 2014).
16 Waxman E. Mapping Food Insecurity and Distress in American Indian and Alaska Na-tive Communities. Urban Institute May 11, 2016 (accessed May 2016).
17 Ver Ploeg M, Breneman V, Dutko P, et al. Access to Affordable and Nutritious Food: Updated Estimates of Distance to Supermarkets Using 2010 Data, ERR-143, U.S. Depart-ment of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, 2012 (accessed April 2015).
18 Bridging the Gap and Salud America! Better Food in the Neighborhood and Latino Kids, Issue Brief June 2013 (accessed March 2014).
19 Economic Research Service (ERS), U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Food Access Research Atlas (accessed June 2013).
20 Dahl S, Eagle L, Baez C. Analyzing advergames: Active diversions or actually deception. An exploratory study of online advergames content. Young Consumers, 10(1): 46-59, 2009.