New USDA Annual Report on Food Security in the U.S.

Portrait of young African American in the city

Hunger and food insecurity cost the U.S. economy more than $160 billion in poor health outcomes.

Another week, another report on Americans facing concerning access to basic human needs. This week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released its annual report, Household Food Security in the United States in 2020.

Data for the report was collected from 34,330 households in December 2020, though at first glance, this is misleading. While 89.5 percent of U.S. households were “food secure” at that time, the devil was is in the details for the remaining 10.5 percent; incidence rose among households with children, Black Americans, and persons residing in the South. Here’s the lowdown:

  • The gap between Black and white households widened further, with 21.7 percent of Black households experiencing food insecurity, compared with 7.1 percent of white households. That gap of 14.6 percentage points is up from more than 11 points in 2019.
  • Food insecurity was higher for households in which an adult household member owned or rented the property and was unable to work due to the pandemic; 16.4 percent reported being food insecure in the 30-day period from mid-November to mid-December 2020.
  • Numbers were higher for households with an adult who was either unemployed or prevented from looking for work due to the pandemic: 20.4 percent reported being food insecure for the same 30-day period.
  • Children in 2.9 million households were hungry, as close to 8 percent were food insecure in 2020, compared to 6.5 percent in 2019. Many of these households had very low food security among children, meaning they were hungry, skipped a meal, or did not eat for a whole day because there was not enough money for food.
  • Food-secure households spent 18 percent more for food than the typical food-insecure household of the same size and composition.
  • A total of 55 percent of food-insecure households reported participation in one or more of the three largest federal nutrition assistance programs: SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), WIC (Women, Infants, and Children), and the National School Lunch Program.

For healthcare organizations, this topic packs a fiscal punch. Data from the Bread for the World Institute shows that hunger and food insecurity cost the U.S. economy more than $160 billion in poor health outcomes; this amount is higher than all state and federal spending on higher education. Food-insecure adults have annual health expenditures of more than $1,800 per person, and close to $1,900 per child.

Other studies reveal that food insecurity increases trauma for all ages, from children to older adults. Chronic illness intensity, morbidity, and mortality, as well as low-birth weight infants and more frequent neonatal births, hospitalizations, and lengths of stay are also associated with nutrition insufficiency. Food pharmacies and “food for life” markets are becoming the norm at facilities around the country, mitigating traumatic and negative health consequences associated with nutrition insufficiency.

This week’s Monitor Mondays survey asked our listeners, “what percentage of their patient population would benefit from an onsite ‘food is medicine’ market or pharmacy?” The results appear here.

Programming Note: Listen to Ellen Fink-Samnick’s SDoH report Mondays on Monitor Mondays, 10 Eastern.


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