Chilton stated that she was tasked with talking about coping by individuals and families with a focus on what is known, what is not known, and topics for future research.

Up-Front Concerns

Chilton asked about distinguishing between child food insecurity (1 percent of households) and household food insecurity (21 percent of households), suggesting that the focus should be on all children who are exposed to food insecurity in the household. She observed that hunger is multidimensional as an economic, psychological, physical, social, and life-course experience. She said the food insecurity measure does not pick up the social issues or the dynamics of food insecurity across the lifespan that underlie food insecurity. She pointed out two unsettling areas related to food insecurity. The first has to do with the concept of parenting from two different perspectives: the research professional, who deals with theory, and the parent, who may deal with the actuality of food insecurity. The other is the unsettling nature of admitting that child hunger exists in the United States.

Chilton briefly described the Witnesses to Hunger study (Chilton et al., 2009), a participatory action study ongoing in Philadelphia and now also in Baltimore, Boston, and Camden, New Jersey. Through this program, low-income women work with professionals to explore food insecurity and their interactions with federal safety net programs. The purpose is to make sure that they are participating in the national dialogue on hunger and poverty, and are participating in the design, analysis, and dissemination of research.

She pointed to what she called harmful assumptions that need to be dispelled. First, she said, it is tempting for professionals and researchers to think of parents who may be experiencing food insecurity as well-meaning, deserving, and dedicated to looking after their children. These are the parents who report on a survey that their children are very low food secure. It is unsettling to think about some parents as addicted to drugs and potentially self-medicating because of their experiences with trauma and depression.

She went on to say that it is also unsettling to think about the context and the environments in which young children may be raised. She noted the individuals she describes may be called a hard-to-reach population,


1Chilton and colleagues prepared a commissioned background paper on this topic; see Chilton et al. (2013b).

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