One in Five Children in the U.S. Is Food Insecure, Study Shows

April 26, 2016

When you think about hunger, what comes to mind? Is it the East African child with flies buzzing around her head? The rural Indian family living on a few dollars a day?

These are certainly faces of hunger, but here in the United States, so is the single mom working two minimum wage jobs, the elderly shut-in living on a fixed income, and the child whose hunger pangs distract him from his school work. Hunger in America may not always be acute as it is in many developing countries—people not taking in adequate nutrients to survive—but millions of our neighbors struggle to know either where their next meal will come from, or whether it will be fulfilling and nutritious.

Food insecurity affects about one in five American households with children, according to a study published this month by economic policy think tank The Hamilton Project. In nine states, the risk is even higher: one in four kids live in a food insecure household. Here are a few other facts uncovered in the report on hunger:

  1. Hungry Americans work: 85 percent of food insecure households with children are headed by employed adults, indicating that despite working hard for a paycheck, too many Americans simply cannot get by.
  2. Households with teens and seniors are especially vulnerable: Teens eat a lot of food, but the research shows that families with teenagers are two percentage points more likely to be food insecure than families with younger children. What’s more, hunger in households with at least one senior has steadily risen for years.
  3. Food insecure families are not necessarily “poor”: According to the research, a third of American families who struggle to consistently put nutritious meals on the table have incomes of at least twice the federal poverty level.
  4. Nutrition benefits help: Safety net nutrition programs almost always serve as just that—a failsafe to catch the families and individuals who need a little bit of extra help. The Hamilton Project study found that in 2012, the social safety net lifted almost 50 million people out of poverty, including 10 million children. Specifically, nutrition programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, improve both the physical and economic health of participating American families. Despite this evidence, Congress has for several years now been working to cut programs like SNAP.

The scariest data point researchers reported, though, is that after domestic hunger spiked during the 2008 recession, it has yet to return to its pre-recession levels. One in seven households surveyed had difficulty providing enough food because of a lack of resources, nearly twice the food insecurity rate of the late 1990s.

Translation: In the wealthiest nation on earth—where 40 percent of food ends up in landfills—families living on our streets and in our apartment buildings are hungry.

Is this isn’t acceptable to you, there are things you can do to help.

Thrive Market created Thrive Gives, a program that gives access, family by family, to affordable, healthy, and wholesome food. For every new member who purchases a membership, we give a free membership to a family or individual who qualifies for the program. Join Thrive Market today to donate one membership, or if you struggle with food insecurity, click here to see if you qualify for a free membership.

Photo credit: J.R. photography via Stocksy

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Steve Holt

Steve Holt's stories about food, nutrition and food politics are found at Civil Eats,, Boston Magazine, and elsewhere. He's been featured in the Best Food Writing anthology. Follow his tweets and Instagrams @thebostonwriter.


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