Household Food Security in the United States in 2011
by Alisha Coleman-Jensen
, Mark Nord, Margaret Andrews, and Steven Carlson
Economic Research Report No. (ERR-141) 37 pp, September 2012
What Is the Issue?
Most U.S. households have consistent, dependable access to
enough food for active, healthy living-they are food secure. But a
minority of American households experience food insecurity at times
during the year, meaning that their access to adequate food is
limited by a lack of money and other resources. Food and nutrition
assistance programs of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)
increase food security by providing low-income households access to
food, a healthful diet, and nutrition education.
USDA also monitors the extent and severity of food insecurity in
U.S. households through an annual, nationally representative survey
sponsored by USDA's Economic Research Service. Reliable monitoring
of food security contributes to the effective operation of the
Federal programs as well as private food assistance programs and
other government initiatives aimed at reducing food insecurity.
This report presents statistics from the survey covering
households' food security, food expenditures, and use of food and
nutrition assistance programs in 2011.
What Did the Study Find?
The percentage of U.S. households that were food insecure
remained essentially unchanged from 2010 to 2011, while the
percentage with food insecurity in the severe range-described as
very low food security-increased.
- In 2011, 85.1 percent of U.S. households were food secure
throughout the year. The remaining 14.9 percent (17.9 million
households) were food insecure. Food-insecure households (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 the 2010 estimate (14.5
percent) was not statistically significant, meaning that the
difference may be due to sampling variation.
- In 2011, 5.7 percent of U.S. households (6.8 million households
and one-third of all food-insecure households) had very low food
security. In these households, the food intake of some household
members was reduced and normal eating patterns were disrupted at
times during the year due to limited resources. The prevalence of
very low food security returned to the level observed in 2008 and
2009, a statistically significant increase from the 5.4-percent
level of 2010.
Increases in the prevalence of very low food security were
greatest for women living alone, Black households, and
households with annual incomes below 185 percent of the poverty
- Children were food insecure at times during the year in 10.0
percent of households with children (3.9 million households),
essentially unchanged from 9.8 percent in 2010. These households
were unable at times during the year to provide adequate,
nutritious food for their children.
- While children are usually shielded from the disrupted eating
patterns and reduced food intake that characterize very low food
security, both children and adults experienced instances of very
low food security in 1.0 percent of households with children
(374,000 households) in 2011, unchanged from 2010.
- For households with incomes near or below the Federal poverty
line, households with children headed by single
women or single men, and Black and Hispanic households, rates of
food insecurity were substantially higher than the national
average. Food insecurity was more common in large cities and rural
areas than in suburban areas and other outlying areas around large
- Typically, households classified as having very low food
security experienced the condition in 7 months of the year, for a
few days in each of those months.
- The typical food-secure household spent 24 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 called food
- 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
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's Economic Research Service
sponsors the annual survey and then compiles and analyzes the
responses. The 2011 food security survey covered 43,770 households
comprising a representative sample of the U.S. civilian population
of 119 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 to afford balanced meals, cutting the size of meals
because of too little money for food, or being hungry because of
too little money for food. The food security status of the
household was assigned based on the number of food-insecure