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When the Cupboard is Bare

New Study Finds Children in Every Neighborhood at Risk of Food Insecurity

Sad, hungry poor little girl and her mother sit on the floor in their home kitchen.

According to a new study published in the journal Children and Youth Services Review, children are at risk for food insecurity in communities across the income spectrum. The study was led by Taryn Morrissey, assistant professor at American University’s School of Public Affairs.

Approximately 20 percent of American households with children under age six are ‘food insecure,’ meaning that the food intake or eating pattern of one or more family members is disrupted because the household lacks the resources to provide proper nutrition. Using national data, the authors found that children in high-poverty neighborhoods are more likely to be food-insecure than those in low-poverty communities, but this is largely due to their own family resources, not neighborhood resources.

“Targeting low income neighborhoods for food assistance can reach children vulnerable to food insecurity,” said Morrissey. “But our study shows that families in every neighborhood are susceptible to financial instability.”

For example, the study found that nearly one in 11 kindergarten-age children in middle to higher income neighborhoods experienced household food insecurity in 2010–2011, suggesting that a substantial numbers of families in more advantaged neighborhoods may benefit from greater access to food assistance.

Previous research has found links between growing up in communities with concentrated neighborhood poverty and health and long-term educational and economic outcomes. However, household resources, particularly family income and education, rather than neighborhood food access, largely explained much of the link between neighborhood poverty and food insecurity, with the exception of more severe child-level insecurity.

“American policymakers should consider expanding access to food assistance in communities across the income spectrum to reach at-risk children and families,” said Morrissey.