New USDA Report: "Household Food Security in the U.S. 2009


2009 Food Security USDABy Eddie Gehman Kohan

Record-breaking levels of food insecurity from 2008 survey remain steady for 2009, with more participants than ever before enrolled in federal nutrition assistance programs

About 17.4 million households in America had difficulty providing enough nutritious food due to a lack of resources last year, according to USDA's "Household Food Security In The United States 2009," an annual survey released today by USDA. That's about the same level as in 2008, despite a significant increase in unemployment and poverty in the United States between 2008 and 2009. The report identifies 14.7 percent of the 17.4 million households as "food insecure at least some time during the year," with 6.8 million, or 5.7 percent with "very low food security." Households led by single parents fared the worst in terms of food security, according to the survey.

It's also the highest recorded level of food insecurity since the annual survey began in 1995. The 2009 food security survey covered about 46,000 households, comprising a representative sample of the US civilian population of 118 million households. (Above: USDA graphic illustrating percentages of households that experienced food shortages in 2009)

>Download the report summary here;the full report is here [PDF]

About 57% percent of the food-insecure households surveyed reported that they had participated in one or more of the three largest federal nutrition assistance programs within the past month, and Kevin Concannon, Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services, said that this shows that the federal government's fifteen different nutrition assistance programs are responding to the needs of Americans.

"This report highlights just how critical federal nutrition assistance programs are for American families in need," Concannon said in a statement. "The Obama administration is working to provide greater access to this critical safety net during these difficult economic times."

The three largest programs are the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, also called "Food Stamps"), the National School Lunch Program, and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). The school lunch program is currently a topic of hot debate, as reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act awaits action during the lame duck Congress, which began today in Washington. It's the legislative centerpiece of First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! campaign to end childhood obesity, and impacts more than 31 million children.

Record growth in enrollment in federal nutrition programs
Between 2008-2009, there was record growth in participation in the federal nutrition programs, according to the survey. For instance, average monthly SNAP participation increased by 18.7 percent, by about 5.3 million people. And in each month of 2009, more than 400,000 more low-income women, infants, and children participated in WIC than in the 2008 survey, a 4.8 percent increase.

Singe parent households; non-white; rural and big city households are the most food insecure
The survey found that in more than a third of those households that reported difficulty in providing enough food, at least one member did not get enough to eat at some time during the year, and normal eating patterns were disrupted due to limited resources. Food insecurity was more common in large cities and rural areas, and rates were substantially higher than the national average among households with incomes near or below the Federal poverty line, households with children headed by single parents, and African-American and Hispanic households.

"We anticipate that food security will improve as the economy improves but in the near-term, without these benefits, many families would face far more severe problems getting the nutritious food they need," Concannon said. He added that despite record enrollment, many people who qualify for nutrition assistance still don't receive it.

Also in 2009, food donations through The Emergency Food Assistance Program increased by $100 million as a result of the Recovery Act, providing additional USDA Foods to thousands of food pantries and other emergency feeding organizations across the country, USDA noted in a press release.

>Read about the 2008 Household Food Security Report here.

Overview of Household Food Security in 2009:

*85.3 percent of U.S. households were food secure throughout the year in 2009. They had consistent access to adequate food for all household members.

*The remaining 14.7 percent were food insecure (17.4 million households). Food-insecure households had difficulty at some time during the year providing enough food for all their members due to a lack of resources.

*About a third of food-insecure households (6.8 million, or 5.7 percent of U.S. households) had very low food security, a severe range of food insecurity in which the food intake of some household members was reduced and normal eating patterns were disrupted due to limited resources.

*Children were food insecure at times during 2009 in 4.2 million households (10.6 percent of households with children). Although children are usually shielded from disrupted eating patterns and reduced food intake, children along with adults experienced instances of very low food security in 469,000 households (1.2 percent of households with children) in 2009.

*Rates of food insecurity were substantially higher than the national average among households with incomes near or below the Federal poverty line, households with children headed by single parents, and Black and Hispanic households.

*Food insecurity was more common in large cities than in rural areas and in suburbs and other outlying areas around large cities.

*The typical (median) food-secure household spent 33 percent more for food than the typical food-insecure household of the same size and composition in 2009.

*Fifty-seven percent of food-insecure households in the survey reported that in the previous month they had participated in one or more of the three largest Federal food and nutrition assistance programs.

Overview of Trends:


*The food security of U.S. households, when measured over the entire year (the statistics described above), remained essentially unchanged from 2008 to 2009, with the prevalence of food insecurity at both levels of severity remaining at the highest percentage observed since nationally representative food security surveys were initiated in 1995.

*During the final 30-day period covered by the 2009 survey—from mid-November to mid-December—fewer households had very low food security (3.3 percent) than during the corresponding period in 2008 (3.6 percent). Improvements were most notable for low-income households, households with children, Black non-Hispanic households, and households in the Northeast Census region.

How Was the Study Conducted?

Data for the ERS food security reports come from an annual survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau as a supplement to the monthly Current Population Survey. USDA sponsors the annual survey, and USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) compiles and analyzes the responses. The 2009 food security survey covered about 46,000 households comprising a representative sample of the U.S. civilian population of 118 million households.

The food security survey asked one adult respondent in each household a series of questions about experiences and behaviors that indicate food insecurity, such as being unable, at times, to afford balanced meals, cutting the size of meals because they lacked enough money for food, or being hungry because they lacked enough money for food. The food security status of the household was assigned based on the number of food-insecure conditions reported.

Originally published at: Obamafoodorama.



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