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Food Insecurity and Hunger in the United States: An Assessment of the Measure
sure was developed over the course of several years in response to the National Nutrition Monitoring and Related Research Act of 1990. It is a direct experiential measure based on self-reported behaviors, experiences, and conditions in response to questions in a survey. (A brief history of the development of the measure is provided in Chapter 2.)
Each year since 1995, USDA has developed annual estimates of the prevalence of food insecurity for U.S. households. These estimates are developed using data collected annually in the Food Security Supplement (FSS) to the Current Population Survey (CPS). On the basis of the number of food-insecure conditions that are reported by households (i.e., the number of questions the respondent affirms), USDA classifies households into one of three categories for purposes of monitoring and statistical analysis of the food security of the population: food secure, food insecure without hunger, and food insecure with hunger. Furthermore, the questions specify that the behavior or condition must be due to a lack of economic or other resources to obtain food, so the scale is not affected by hunger due to voluntary dieting or fasting or being too busy to eat or other similar reasons, or involuntary hunger due to reasons other than resource constraints. USDA uses statistical methods based on a single-parameter logistic item response theory model (the Rasch model) to assess individual questions and to assess the assumptions that justify using the raw number of items affirmed as an ordinal measure of food insecurity. (This method and the issues surrounding its use for this purpose are described in detail in Chapter 5.)
The USDA estimates, published in a series of annual reports since 1995, are widely used by government agencies, the media, and advocacy groups to report the extent of food insecurity and hunger in the United States, to monitor progress toward national objectives, to evaluate the impact of particular public policies and programs, as a standard by which the performance of USDA programs is measured, and as a basis for a diverse body of research on questions related to food assistance programs. Government agencies have also adopted the estimates as targets for performance assessment. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) uses the food security measure to assess the performance of its Healthy People 2010 initiative. The Food and Nutrition Service of USDA is using the measure as a target for its strategic plan to fulfill requirements of the Government Performance and Results Act of 1993.1
“The Government Performance and Results Act of 1993 seeks to shift the focus of government decision making and accountability away from a preoccupation with the activities that are undertaken, such as grants dispensed or inspections made, to a focus on the results of those activities, such as real gains in employability, safety, responsiveness, or program quality. Under the act, agencies are to develop multiyear strategic plans, annual performance plans, and annual reports” (U.S. Government Accountability Office, 2002, p. 1).