What is Food Insecurity?

October 20, 2016

What is food insecurity? It may seem like a simple question, but the answer can be quite complicated.

In 2006, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) introduced new language to describe food insecurity as recommended by an expert panel convened by the Committee on National Statistics (CNSTAT) of the National Academies.

First, the USDA gives a definitive distinction between food insecurity and hunger:

  • Food insecurity: A household-level economic and social condition of limited or uncertain access to adequate food, as assessed in the food security survey and represented in USDA food security reports.
  • Hunger: An individual-level physiological condition that may result from food insecurity.

In addition, the USDA defines food security and insecurity according to their severity:

Food security

  • High food security: No reported indications of food-access problems or limitations.
  • Marginal food security: One or two reported indications—typically of anxiety over food sufficiency or shortage of food in the house. Little or no indication of changes in diets or food consumption.

Food insecurity

  • Low food security: Reports of reduced quality, variety or desirability of diet. Little or no indication of reduced food consumption.
  • Very low food security: Reports of multiple indications of disrupted eating patterns and reduced food consumption.

According to the latest survey assessing household food security in the U.S., an estimated 12.7 percent of American households were food insecure at least some time during the year in 2015. The good news is that this estimate is down from 14 percent reported in 2014.

Whether you are a health and wellness professional or simply a person wanting to make a difference in the lives of food insecure people, you can take action in your community by raising awareness, donating or volunteering at your local Feeding America food bank. Last month we highlighted innovative ways retailers, food banks and dairy companies are partnering to bring fresh milk to hungry people in their communities. You can donate to the Great American Milk Drive – so food bank clients can get coupons for much needed fresh milk. Visit milklife.com/give for more information. In addition, you can use MyPlate educational tools to help people eat healthfully on a budget

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