Household Food Security in the United States, 2006
by Mark Nord, Margaret Andrews, and Steven Carlson
Economic Research Report No. (ERR-49) 66 pp, November 2007
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. The U.S. Department
of Agriculture (USDA) monitors the extent and severity of food
insecurity in U.S. households through an annual, nationally
representative survey and has published statistical reports on
household food security in the United States for each year since
1995. This report presents statistics on households' food security,
food expenditures, and use of food and nutrition assistance
programs for 2006.
What Is the Issue?
USDA's domestic food and nutrition assistance programs increase
food security by providing children and low-income adults access to
food, a healthful diet, and nutrition education. Reliable
monitoring of food security contributes to the effective operation
of these programs as well as private food assistance programs and
other government initiatives aimed at reducing food insecurity.
USDA's annual food security report provides statistics that guide
planning for Federal, State, and community food assistance
What Did the Study Find?
In 2006, 89.1 percent of U.S. households were food secure,
essentially unchanged from 2005 (89.0 percent). Food-secure
households had consistent access to enough food for active healthy
lives for all household members at all times during the year. The
remaining 10.9 percent (12.6 million households) were food
insecure. These households, at some time during the year, had
difficulty providing enough food for all their members due to a
lack of resources.
About one-third of food-insecure households (4.6 million, or 4.0
percent of all U.S. households) had very low food security,
essentially unchanged from 2005 (3.9 percent). In households with
very low food security, the food intake of some household members
was reduced and their normal eating patterns were disrupted because
of the household's food insecurity. The other two-thirds of
food-insecure households obtained enough food to avoid substantial
disruptions in eating patterns and food intake, using a variety of
coping strategies, such as eating less varied diets, participating
in Federal food and nutrition assistance programs, or obtaining
emergency food from community food pantries or emergency
Even when resources are inadequate to provide food for the
entire family, children are usually shielded from the disrupted
eating patterns and reduced food intake that characterize very low
food security. Children, as well as adults, experienced very low
food security in 221,000 households (0.6 percent of households with
children). This rate has remained between 0.5 and 0.7 percent
(statistically unchanged) since 1999.
The number of households with very low food security on a given
day was a small fraction of the number that experienced this
condition "at some time during the year." On average, households
classified as having very low food security experienced the
condition in 7 months of the year and for a few days in each of
those months. On an average day in November 2006, for example, an
estimated 600,000 to 877,000 households (0.5 - 0.8 percent of all
U.S. households) experienced very low food security, and children
experienced these conditions in 29,000 to 33,000 households (0.07
to 0.08 percent of all U.S. households with children).
The prevalence of food insecurity varied considerably among
different types of households. Rates of food insecurity were
substantially higher than the national average for households with
incomes near or below the Federal poverty line, households with
children headed by single women, and Black and Hispanic households.
Geographically, food insecurity was more common in large cities and
rural areas and, regionally, more prevalent in the South.
Food-secure households spent more for food than food-insecure
households. In 2006, the median U.S. household spent $41.67 per
person for food each week-about 28 percent more than the cost of
USDA's Thrifty Food Plan (a low-cost food "market basket" that
meets dietary standards, taking into account household size and the
age and gender of household members). The median food-insecure
household spent 1 percent more than the cost of the Thrifty Food
Plan, while the median food-secure household spent 32 percent more
than the cost of the Thrifty Food Plan.
Some food-insecure households turn to Federal food and nutrition
assistance programs or emergency food providers in their
communities when they are unable to obtain enough food. Just over
half of the food-insecure households surveyed in 2006 said that in
the previous month they had participated in one or more of the
three largest Federal food and nutrition assistance programs-the
National School Lunch Program, the Food Stamp Program, and the
Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and
Children (WIC). About 21 percent of food-insecure households
obtained emergency food from a food pantry at some time during the
year, and 2.2 percent ate one or more meals at an emergency kitchen
in their community.
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 (CPS). USDA sponsors the survey,
and ERS compiles and analyzes the responses. The 2006 food security
survey covered about 46,500 households and was a representative
sample of the U.S. civilian population of 115 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. The food security status of the
household was assessed based on the number of food-insecure
conditions reported (such as not being able to afford balanced
meals, cutting the size of meals because there was not enough money
for food, or being hungry because there was not enough money for
food). Households with very low food security among children were
identified by responses to a subset of questions about the
conditions and experiences of children. Survey respondents also
reported the amounts their households had spent on food and whether
they had used public or private food and nutrition assistance