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

Function Navigation

Bookmark and Share

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 survey 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 2008, an estimated 49.1 million people lived in households that were classified as food-insecure. Households or persons experiencing food insecurity may be categorized as experiencing “low food security” or “very low food security.” 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.

Overall, 15.4 percent of women experienced household food insecurity in 2008; this varies, however, by race and ethnicity. Non-Hispanic Asian/Pacific Islander and non-Hispanic White women were least likely to be food insecure (10.3 and 11.1 percent, respectively), compared to more than one-quarter of Hispanic, non-Hispanic Black, and non-Hispanic American Indian/Alaska Native women. Non-Hispanic American Indian/Alaska Native and non-Hispanic Black women were also more likely to have very low food security (13.4 and 10.2 percent, respectively).

Food security status also varies by household composition. While adult men and women living alone had similar rates of food insecurity in 2008, female-headed households with no spouse present were more likely than male-headed households with no spouse present to experience food insecurity (37.2 versus 27.6 percent, respectively). Among adults with no spouse present, females were also more likely than males to experience very low food security (13.3 versus 7.2 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/measurement.htm, accessed 07/27/10.

Back to Top