BOX 2-3
Food Insecurity

Food security is access at all times to enough food for an active healthy life. Food insecurity exists when there is inadequate or unsure access to enough food for active, healthy living. In 1995, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) began collecting data on food access, food adequacy, spending on food, and sources of food assistance for the U.S. population. Data are collected annually through a food security survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, and are used as a source of information on the prevalence and severity of food insecurity in U.S. households. In the 18-item Core Food Security Module (CFSM), households are placed in one of four mutually exclusive groups: high food security, marginal food security, low food security, and very low food security. Most analyses refer to food insecurity, which combines the latter two categories.

Categories of Food Insecurity

USDA Classification

Number of Affirmative Responses to the CFSM

High food security


Marginal food security

1 or 2

Low food security


Very low food security

8 or more in households with children;
6 or more in households without children

SOURCES: (accessed April 8, 2013); Anderson, 1990; NRC, 2006.

a nationally representative survey carried out by the U.S. Census Bureau.37 In December of each year since 2001, about 50,000 households have responded to a series of 18 questions (10 if no children are present) that make up the Core Food Security Module (CFSM) in the CPS (see Appendix F for the list of questions). Each question is designed to capture some aspect of food insecurity, and some questions include the frequency with which that aspect manifests. Respondents are asked about their food security status in the last 30 days, as well as over the past 12 months, and about food spending and the use of federal and community food assistance programs. The 18-item food security scale is intended to capture self-assessed concerns/anxiety over lack of access to healthy and safe foods owing to a lack of economic resources. It is measured at the household level and thus does not identify who in the household is experiencing food insecurity.


37For discussion of the history of food insecurity measures, see NRC (2006).

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