A History of the Food Insecurity Measure

Since 1995, USDA has released annual findings on food insecurity. This measure has its roots in the early 1980s, when many communities across the country experienced an enormous increase in demand for emergency food, often among families with children. Community leaders wanted to document this growing problem so that policymakers would recognize its severity and do something about the hunger they were seeing.

FRAC developed the Community Childhood Hunger Identification Project (CCHIP) to address this expressed need. CCHIP was the first nationwide survey measuring the extent of hunger among families with children, the results of which were released in 1991 and 1995.

At the same time that CCHIP was being conducted, FRAC worked with a broad coalition of national organizations to get national nutrition monitoring legislation through Congress – legislation that required the federal government, among other things, to develop a measure of food insufficiency that could be added to the national nutrition monitoring system. Using CCHIP’s methodology as a foundation, the USDA and the Census Bureau developed a food security module to be included in CPS. The findings were released in 1995.

USDA introduced new labels for the survey results in 2006. The new terms were based on an independent review of the survey methodology that was conducted by the National Academies of Science. It concluded that the survey and the methodology to measure food insecurity were appropriate and that it was important to continue monitoring food security. However, it felt that the descriptions of categories should be revised to better convey that it is a measure of household food insecurity. Hunger, it felt, described an individual experience, while ‘food insecurity’ described the findings as they relate to the household experience.

The terms to describe food security are:

  • High Food Security: These are households that did not answer ‘yes’ to any of the food insecurity questions.
  • Marginal Food Security: This term captures families that answered ‘yes’ to one or two of the food security questions, meaning they have has some difficulties with securing enough food. Previously, they would have been categorized as “Food Secure.”

These two groups together describe food insecurity. The terms are:

  • Low Food Security: This term replaces “Food Insecurity without Hunger.” Generally, people that fall into this category have had to make changes in the quality or the quantity of their food in order to deal with a limited budget.
  • Very Low Food Security: This term replaces “Food Insecurity with Hunger.” People that fall into this category have struggled with having enough food for the household, including cutting back or skipping meals on a frequent basis for both adults and children.

While the word hunger was been removed from the description of the results of the survey, it should not be interpreted that there has been a major shift in the incidence of hunger. There are countless people in this country facing hunger daily.