U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration

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Food Security

Food security is defined as having access at all times to enough nutritionally adequate and safe foods to lead a healthy, active lifestyle.1 Food security status is assessed through a series of questions such as whether people worried that food would run out before there would be money to buy more; whether an individual or his/her family cut the size of meals or skipped meals because there was not enough money for food; and whether an individual or his/her family had ever gone a whole day without eating because there was not enough food.

In 2007, an estimated 36.2 million people lived in households that were classified as not fully food secure.ibid Households or persons experiencing food insecurity may be categorized as experiencing low food security or very low food security (formerly referred to as “food insecurity with hunger”). Low food security generally indicates multiple food access issues, while very low food security indicates reduced food intake and disrupted eating patterns due to inadequate resources for food. Periods of low or very low food security may be occasional or episodic, placing the members of a household at greater nutritional risk due to insufficient access to nutritionally adequate and safe foods. Marginal food security indicates some problems accessing food, but not enough to qualify as food insecure.

In 2005–2006, nearly 17 percent of women lived in households that were not fully food secure, and this percentage varied by age. The proportion of women who were fully food secure increased as age increased. Women aged 65 years and older were most likely to be fully food secure (90.7 percent), while 18- to 24-year-olds were least likely (74.8 percent).

Food security status also varies by household composition. While adult men and women living alone had similar rates of food insecurity in 2007, female-headed households with no spouse present were more likely than male-headed households with no spouse present to experience food insecurity (30.2 versus 18.0 percent, respectively).

1 U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service. Food Security in the United States: Measuring Household Food Security, [online] Nov 2008. http://www.ers.usda.gov/briefing/Foodsecurity/readings.htm, accessed 02/03/09.

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