Household Food Security in the United States, 2007
by Mark Nord, Margaret Andrews, and Steven Carlson
Economic Research Report No. (ERR-66) 65 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 2007.
What Is the Issue?
USDA's domestic food and nutrition assistance programs increase
food security by providing low-income households 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. This
annual food security report provides statistics that guide planning
for Federal, State, and community food assistance programs.
What Did the Study Find?
In 2007, 88.9 percent of U.S. households were food secure
throughout the year, a level that was essentially unchanged from
2005 (89.0 percent) and 2006 (89.1 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
11.1 percent (13 million households) were food insecure. These
households, at some time during the year, had diffi culty providing
enough food for all their members due to a lack of resources.
About one-third of food-insecure households (4.7 million, or 4.1
percent of all U.S. households) had very low food security,
essentially unchanged from 2005 (3.9 percent) and 2006 (4.0
percent). In households with very low food security, the food
intake of some household members was reduced and their normal
eating patterns 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 kitchens.
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
lowfood security. However, children as well as adults experienced
instances of very low food security in 323,000 households (0.8
percent of households with children) in 2007, up from 221,000
households (0.6 percent of households with children) in 2006.
On a given day, the number of households with very low food
security was a small fraction of the number that experienced this
condition "at some time during the year." On average, households
classifi ed as having very low food security experienced the
condition in 7 months of the year, for a few days in each of those
months. On an average day in November 2007, for example, an
estimated 609,000 to 941,000 households (0.5-0.8 percent of all
U.S. households) had members who experienced very low food
security, and children experienced these conditions in 45,000 to
65,000 households (0.11 to 0.17 percent of all U.S. households with
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 than in
the Northeast and Midwest.
Food-secure households spent more for food than food-insecure
households. In 2007, the median U.S. household spent $42.50 per
person for food each week-about 20 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-secure
household spent 24 percent more than the cost of the Thrifty Food
Plan, while the median food-insecure household spent 8 percent less
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 2007 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 2.7 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. USDA sponsors the survey, and
ERS compiles and analyzes the responses. The 2007 food security
survey covered about 45,600 households and was 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. The food security status of the
household was assessed based on the number of food-insecure
conditions reported (such as being unable to afford balanced meals,
cutting the size of meals because there was too little money for
food, or being hungry because there was too little money for food).
Households with very low food security among children were identifi
ed by responses to a subset of questions about the conditions and
experiences of children. Survey respondents also reported the
amounts their households spent on food and whether they had used
public or private food and nutrition assistance programs.