Child Food Insecurity in America

Updated May 27, 2024 | Posted January 19, 2023
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
A young girl smiles as she eats a red apple

What is Child Food Insecurity?

Child food inse­cu­ri­ty occurs when chil­dren do not eat enough to sup­port a healthy, active lifestyle. Fam­i­lies with chil­dren who go hun­gry are often unable to afford or access high-qual­i­ty, nutri­tious foods. 

The U.S. Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture iden­ti­fies four gen­er­al lev­els of food secu­ri­ty from high to very low. Chil­dren in house­holds with very low food secu­ri­ty may have to skip meals or go for days with­out eat­ing due to insuf­fi­cient mon­ey or resources. Con­verse­ly, every­one in a food secure house­hold has access to con­sis­tent, healthy meals and no one wor­ries about afford­ing gro­ceries or run­ning out of food.

While most Amer­i­can house­holds (87.2%) are food secure, child food inse­cu­ri­ty con­tin­ues to be a major con­cern in the Unit­ed States. In 2022, 17.3% of all house­holds with chil­dren — 6.4 mil­lion homes nation­wide — were grap­pling with food inse­cu­ri­ty, accord­ing to the USDA. In some of these house­holds, only adults were food inse­cure. In oth­er house­holds, chil­dren were also impact­ed. The USDA esti­mates that 44.2 mil­lion peo­ple across the coun­try expe­ri­enced food inse­cu­ri­ty in 2022. This total includes 7.3 mil­lion chil­dren, which trans­lates to 10% of all chil­dren nationwide.

Child Hunger Sta­tis­tics in America 

After years of shrink­ing, the nation’s share of food inse­cure house­holds with chil­dren took a turn in the wrong direc­tion. This sta­tis­tic increased near­ly 40% from 12.5% in 2021 to 17.3% in 2022, accord­ing to the USDA.

One cause? Food costs increased sharply in 2022, ris­ing 12% from Decem­ber 2021 to Decem­ber 2022, accord­ing to the Cen­ter on Bud­get and Pol­i­cy Pri­or­i­ties. Researchers have linked rapid­ly ris­ing food prices to greater food hard­ships for many people.

Con­sid­er this child hunger sta­tis­tic from Octo­ber 2022: 13 states report­ed kids going hun­gry due to the high cost of food in at least 30% of house­holds with chil­dren. Among the 44 ranked states, Michi­gan report­ed the high­est share of house­holds with chil­dren going hun­gry at 43%, accord­ing to the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion’s Kids Count® Data Center.

Oth­er child hunger sta­tis­tics in Amer­i­ca include:

Caus­es of Child Hunger in America

While many fac­tors con­tribute to child food inse­cu­ri­ty, Feed­ing Amer­i­ca — a non­prof­it net­work of 200 food banks nation­wide — iden­ti­fies com­mon caus­es as: 

  • pover­ty, unem­ploy­ment and low wages
  • a lack of afford­able hous­ing; and
  • racism and discrimination.

Cer­tain types of fam­i­lies also face high­er rates of food inse­cu­ri­ty than oth­ers, accord­ing to Feed­ing Amer­i­ca. Fam­i­lies at greater risk include:

  • Fam­i­lies of col­or. Black peo­ple, Lati­nos, and Native Amer­i­cans are more like­ly than white peo­ple to face bar­ri­ers to get­ting food.
  • Sin­gle-par­ent fam­i­lies. Nation­wide, 33% of house­holds head­ed by sin­gle moms expe­ri­enced food inse­cu­ri­ty in 2022.
  • Rur­al fam­i­lies. Hunger is a prob­lem in every part of the coun­try, but it is more com­mon in rur­al areas. Across the Unit­ed States, 9 out of 10 coun­ties with the high­est food inse­cu­ri­ty rates are rural.

In addi­tion, many low­er income fam­i­lies strug­gle to afford basic liv­ing expens­es, such as hous­ing costs, food and health care. Fam­i­lies with annu­al earn­ings that fall below the fed­er­al pover­ty line have the high­est rates of food inse­cu­ri­ty. In 2022, 36.7% of house­holds with incomes below the fed­er­al pover­ty line were also food inse­cure, accord­ing to the USDA

Effects of Child Hunger in America

How Food Inse­cu­ri­ty Affects Child Development 

Eat­ing healthy, nutri­tious meals is vital to a child’s phys­i­cal, men­tal and social devel­op­ment. When chil­dren have enough food, accord­ing to Feed­ing Amer­i­ca, they can con­cen­trate on impor­tant things, like doing well in school, play­ing sports, and graduating. 

Decades of research has linked child food inse­cu­ri­ty to a num­ber of neg­a­tive out­comes and even life­long con­se­quences. The USDA’s Food Inse­cu­ri­ty Report shares that, rel­a­tive to food-secure peers, chil­dren who go hun­gry are more like­ly to have:

  • poor­er over­all health; 
  • reduced immune sys­tem functioning;
  • low body weight; 
  • asth­ma;
  • ane­mia;
  • high­er usage of emer­gency room visits;
  • anx­i­ety and depression;
  • behav­ioral prob­lems; and
  • dif­fi­cul­ties in school.

Food inse­cu­ri­ty derails a stu­den­t’s con­cen­tra­tion, mem­o­ry, mood, and motor skills — all of which chil­dren need to be suc­cess­ful in school, per the No Kid Hun­gry cam­paign. On aver­age, stu­dents who eat school break­fast score 17.5% high­er on stan­dard­ized math tests and attend 1.5 more days of school each year rel­a­tive to stu­dents who start the day hun­gry, the cam­paign reports.

Demo­graph­ics of Chil­dren Fac­ing Food Insecurity 

Race and eth­nic­i­ty play a role in how like­ly chil­dren are to expe­ri­ence hunger and food insecurity.

For exam­ple: The high cost of food has result­ed in kids going hun­gry in 21% of white house­holds with chil­dren, accord­ing to 2022 data from the Kids Count Data Cen­ter. This same sta­tis­tic jumps to 38% for Black house­holds with chil­dren and 37% for both His­pan­ic or Lati­no and mul­tira­cial house­holds with children.

Feed­ing Amer­i­ca’s child hunger sta­tis­tics show sim­i­lar dis­par­i­ties. The non­prof­it reports that:

  • Black Chil­dren run the great­est risk of fac­ing food inse­cu­ri­ty rel­a­tive to peers of oth­er racial and eth­nic groups. In 2022, 29% of all Black chil­dren nation­wide lived in food inse­cure households. 
  • Lati­no Chil­dren are twice as like­ly to face hunger when com­pared to their white peers. In 2022, 26% of all Lati­no chil­dren expe­ri­enced food insecurity.

A March 2023 House­hold Pulse Sur­vey, con­duct­ed by the U.S.Census Bureau, revealed sim­i­lar data dif­fer­ences among racial and eth­nic groups.(This sur­vey looks at child food insuf­fi­cien­cy, which refers to house­holds with chil­dren that did not have enough food to eat some­times or often in the last sev­en days).

The sur­vey results describe child food insuf­fi­cien­cy in: 

  • 22.8% of Black non-His­pan­ic households; 
  • 19.5% of His­pan­ic households;
  • 13.1% of oth­er non-His­pan­ic households;
  • 10.1% of Asian House­holds; and
  • 8.1% of white non-His­pan­ic households.

Such data dis­par­i­ties are root­ed in sys­temic dis­crim­i­na­tion, racism and oppres­sion of pop­u­la­tions of col­or. As the non­prof­it Food Resource & Action Cen­ter notes: Decades of hous­ing seg­re­ga­tion, employ­ment dis­crim­i­na­tion, and over-polic­ing are a few of the wide-rang­ing bar­ri­ers that have result­ed in high­er lev­els of food inse­cu­ri­ty among com­mu­ni­ties of color.”

Resources on Child Food Inse­cu­ri­ty and Eco­nom­ic Insta­bil­i­ty in Amer­i­ca Today

Learn more about child food inse­cu­ri­ty and pos­si­ble solu­tions with resources from the Casey Foundation.

KIDS COUNT Data Cen­ter Resources

Addi­tion­al Resources

Stay con­nect­ed with the KIDS COUNT Data Cen­ter by email

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