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Hunger declined in the U.S. from 2020 to 2021, but 1 in 10 households were still food insecure ─ with no reliable access to enough food – according to a new USDA report.
Food insecurity disproportionately impacted people of color, too.
A higher percentage of Latino (16.2%) and Black (19.8%) households experienced food insecurity than White households (7%), the report found.
Still, the problem could have been worse.
“We know that matters would be far worse if not for the federal nutrition programs and the critical additional investments that were made to combat hunger during the pandemic,” according to a news release from the Food Action & Research Center (FRAC) about the new USDA data.
Let’s explore the state of food insecurity among Latinos and the importance of both food security and nutrition security.
What Does the New Data Say about U.S. Food Insecurity?
Most U.S. households have consistent, dependable access to enough food for active, healthy living—they are food secure.
But the news isn’t all good in the new USDA report:
- In 2021, 89.8% of U.S. households were food secure. The remaining 10.2% were food insecure.
- The rate of food insecurity for households with children decreased from 14.8% in 2020 to 12.5% in 2021.
- 3% of single-parent households headed by women experienced food insecurity.
- Southern region states experienced food insecurity at a much higher rate than any other U.S. region. Nearly 11.4% of households experienced food insecurity in 2021.
- Of Latino low-income households, 69.4% were food secure, 18.8% were food insecure, and 11.8% were very low food security.
- Rates of very low food security remained the same at 3.8% in 2021 compared to 3.9% in 2020. But the rate was higher among Black (7.9%) and Latino (5.5%) households.
Overall, the data reveal that some populations, like Latinos, still struggle with access to food.
Why Isn’t Food Insecurity Worse amid a Pandemic?
There are many reasons for food insecurity.
“[Food insecurity] results from insufficient household resources,” according to the USDA report. “However, many factors that might affect a household’s food security (e.g., job loss, divorce, health shock, or other unexpected events) are not captured by an annual income measure.”
But it didn’t reach dire levels because of boosts to SNAP federal food aid, added flexibility in the WIC federal nutrition program, expanded child tax credits, and the greater ability for schools to make school lunches free for everyone, according to FRAC.
Many of these actions are temporary.
For example, the expanded child tax credit and free school meals for all already have ended.
“The free school meals offered to all children, no matter their household income, also were a game-changer for stretching family budgets while fueling children’s health and learning,” according to FRAC. “The U.S. Department of Agriculture waivers that made free school meals for all possible ended in June, eliminating access to free school meals for millions of struggling families who can no longer count on school breakfasts and lunches to help make ends meet.”
Why Is Nutrition Security Important for Latinos?
A Salud America! research review found that many Latino neighborhoods lack grocery stores and offer an abundance of unhealthy food options.
In fact, Latinos are not only food insecure – they are nutrition insecure, too.
While food insecurity has more to do with access than quality, nutrition security is “having consistent access to and availability and affordability of foods and beverages that promote well-being, while preventing — and, if needed, treating — disease.”
“Many health professionals and policymakers think [food insecurity is] an inadequate term. Instead, they say, we should be focused on ‘nutrition security.’ That term emphasizes access, availability and affordability of foods that promote well-being and prevent or treat disease, not just foods that provide calories,” Cara Rosenbloom, a registered dietitian and the president of Words to Eat By, wrote in a recent Washington Post perspective.
USDA mentions that nutrition security requires “recognizing that Americans, in general, fall short of an active, healthy lifestyle aligned with our Nation’s dietary and physical activity guidelines, and emphasizing that we apply an equity lens to ensure our efforts serve all populations to promote access, availability, and affordability to foods and beverages and address the connection between food insecurity and diet-related chronic diseases.”
How Can We Reach Nutrition Security?
FRAC advocates for more systemic change to address nutrition security.
“FRAC now calls on Congress and the Biden administration to build on lessons learned from the pandemic and work to strengthen these critical programs [i.e., SNAP, WIC] as the nation continues to recover from the fallout of the pandemic,” according to FRAC.
The USDA has worked on collaborative action to integrate nutrition science into policy, systems, and environments.
Through initiatives like the Child and Adult Care Food Program reimbursements are provided for nutritious meals and snacks to eligible children and adults enrolled for care at participating childcare centers, day care homes, and adult day care centers.
The Food and Nutrition Services’ Team Nutrition initiative also released new Child and Adult Care Food Program Meal Pattern Training Slide decks that are available in both English and Spanish.
Visit the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Security webpage for more information and helpful tools.
“Hunger is solvable. We just need political will to make the investments needed to end hunger,” according to FRAC.
How Can You Promote Food & Nutrition Security?
While systemic change is needed to make the biggest differences in ensuring food security and equity for all, you can still contribute in your community!
Download the Salud America! Health Equity Report Card.
The Report Card will help you explore factors such as children in poverty and population receiving federal food aid in your area. See how your community compares to other counties and states across the nation!
Email your Health Equity Report Card to community leaders, share it on social media, and use it to make the case to address food and nutrition insecurity where help is needed most!