Households are food secure if they have consistent, dependable access to enough food for active, healthy living. However, in the U.S. in 2019, 10.5% of households experienced food insecurity, meaning that at times during the year, they did not have access to adequate food due to a lack of money and other resources. Food insecurity was even more common in household with children, where it affects nearly 1 in 7 U.S. households.
Food insecurity in the U.S. was in a steady decline from 2009 to 2019. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in new and urgent food security concerns in the wake of mass unemployment, prolonged school closures, and new strains on both food systems and household finances. The effects of the pandemic on food security are still unfolding, but evidence from the last several months suggests that food insecurity reached new peaks during the early pandemic period, and had a particularly profound impact on children.
This increase in food insecurity may have long-lasting consequences. The breadth of consequences of food insecurity is wide and spans the lifecourse. Food insecurity is associated with higher healthcare costs, adult mental health, as well as a range of diet-sensitive chronic disease. Among children, food insecurity is associated with cognitive, social and emotional outcomes and dietary outcomes.
The Rudd Center’s work in the area of food security includes research on federal food assistance programs, as well as initiatives addressing food security in other sectors, including the charitable food system and early care and education.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, 11% of American households experience food insecurity, with that number currently reaching 44% as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Further, those burdened by food insecurity are known to be at an increased risk of overweight and obesity due to a lack of affordable, healthy options. While past work on this topic has focused on federal food and nutrition assistance programs such as SNAP, the food banking system is another important resource for those experiencing hunger.
The study, published in PLOS One, reports on in-depth interviews conducted with 10 key stakeholders (e.g., food bank directors, food bank board members, advocates, elected officials) who are familiar with the food banking system in a professional capacity. The data reveals a strong consensus among these stakeholders that both structural and social characteristics of the food banking system play a role in health disparities.