In a nation wrestling with an obesity epidemic, almost one in four children are food insecure, with a striking disparity in the prevalence of food insecurity among Black children. Such is the state of affairs in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service.
The agency’s 2009 report, “Household Food Insecurity in the United States,” shows that nearly two million Black households with children were food insecure at least some time during the year, an increase of 25 percent over 2007. In 2008, 3.76 million non-Hispanic white households with children were food insecure. The study also reveals that 146,000 Black households with children — up 92 percent from 2007 — experienced very low food security, meaning that the food intake of one or more of the household children was reduced and their eating patterns were disrupted at times during the year because the household lacked money. This marks the largest increase in food insecurity rates among African-American households with children since the USDA has been collecting data. Very low food insecurity for non-Hispanic whites rose 35 percent during the same period.
“These numbers reflect the state of the nation in 2008. Since then, the economy has significantly weakened and there are likely many more children of varying ethnicity struggling with hunger than this report states,” says Vicki Escarra, president and CEO of Feeding America, based in Chicago, one of the nation’s largest hunger-relief organizations. Feeding America annually supplies food to more than 25 million Americans, including 9 million children and 3 million seniors.
Escarra says the USDA data reinforces her agency’s recent study that found a dramatic increase in requests for emergency food assistance from food banks across the country. Conducted in September, the study shows that more than half of Feeding America’s network food banks reported seeing more children as clients. “This study reveals particularly tragic realities facing many Black families with children. We know that inadequate nutrition in children often delays their cognitive development and cannot be restored later in life,” Escarra says. “Feeding America will continue to focus on expanding programs to hungry and at-risk kids to ensure that our future engines of economic growth are strong adults.”
According to the USDA report, 14.6 percent (17.1 million) of U.S. households were food insecure at some time during 2008, an increase from 11.1 percent in 2007; 8.9 percent (10.4 million) of U.S. households had low food security in 2008, up from 7.0 percent in 2007; and 5.7 percent (6.7 million) of U.S. households had very low food security at some time during 2008, up from 4.1 percent in 2007. The same year, 49.1 million people lived in food-insecure households, including 16.7 million children, the report says. Of these individuals, 12.1 million adults and 5.2 million children lived in households with very low food security. At the same time, 1.1 million children (1.5 percent of the nation’s children) lived in households with very low food security among children. Groups with food-insecurity rates much higher than the 14.6 percent national average include households with incomes below the official poverty line — $21,834 for a family of four in 2008 — (42.2 percent); households with children, headed by a single woman (37.2 percent); Black households (25.7 percent); Hispanic households (26.9 percent).