The USDA's labels describe ranges of food security:
High food security (old label=Food security): no reported indications of food-access problems or limitations.
Marginal food security (old label=Food security): one or two reported indications—typically of anxiety over food sufficiency or shortage of food in the house. Little or no indication of changes in diets or food intake.
Low food security (old label=Food insecurity without hunger): reports of reduced quality, variety, or desirability of diet. Little or no indication of reduced food intake.
Very low food security (old label=Food insecurity with hunger): Reports of multiple indications of disrupted eating patterns and reduced food intake.
A food desert is a geographic area where affordable and nutritious food is alleged to be hard to obtain, particularly for those without access to an automobile.
What is Food Insecurity?
In 2016, an estimated 1 in 8 Americans were food insecure, equating to 42 million Americans including 13 million children.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines food insecurity as a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life.
It is important to know that hunger and food insecurity are closely related, but distinct, concepts. Hunger refers to a personal, physical sensation of discomfort, while food insecurity refers to a lack of available financial resources for food at the level of the household.
Policy evaluation, through both quantitative and qualitative research, reveals food insecurity to be a complex problem. It does not exist in isolation, as low-income families are affected by multiple, overlapping issues like affordable housing, social isolation, health problems, medical costs, and low wages. Many do not have what they need to meet basic needs and these challenges increase a family’s risk of food insecurity. Effective responses to food insecurity will need to address these overlapping challenges.
Taken together, issues such as affordable housing, social isolation, education level, unemployment or underemployment and food insecurity are important social determinants of health [ii] defined as the “conditions in the environments in which people are born, live, learn, work, play, worship and age that affect a wide range of health, functioning and quality-of-life outcomes and risks.” HungerandHealth.org explores the impact of food insecurity as a social determinant of health and its effect on individual and population health outcomes.
Poverty and food insecurity in the United States are closely related. Not all people living below the poverty line experience food insecurity, and people living above the poverty line can experience food insecurity. Wages and other critical household expenses (such as caring for an ill child) can also help predict food insecurity among people living in the United States.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture measures food security along a scale from “high food security” to “very low food security,” with three categories to indicate levels of food insecurity.
Moderate food security” describes households with some level of concern or challenge in accessing quality food without significant decreases in quality, variety, or quantity. u “Low food security” describes households where quality, variety, and desirability are negatively impacted, but quantity is not. u “Very low food security” indicates decreases in all areas (quality, variety, desirability, quantity) as well as disrupted eating patterns due to inability to access adequate food.
The survey assessed the food security level of the respondents using the questions provided in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Adult Food Security Survey Module.16 Based on their responses to these questions, respondents were given a score of zero through ten. Their food security status was then determined based on their score:
Score of zero – High food security u Score of 1-2 – Marginal food security .
Score of 3-5 – Low food security u Score of 6-10 – Very low food security
Students with a score of three or more were considered “food insecure.” Students with a score of six or more were considered to be “very food insecure” and likely to be suffering from hunger.
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Interactive map of Food Deserts in the US. USDA ERS - Go to the Atlas