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Food Security Status of U.S. Households in 2012

Food secure—These households had access, at all times, to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members.

  • 85.5 percent (103.9 million) of U.S. households were food secure throughout 2012.
  • Essentially unchanged from 85.1 percent in 2011.
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Food insecure—At times during the year, these households were uncertain of having, or unable to acquire, enough food to meet the needs of all their members because they had insufficient money or other resources for food. Food-insecure households include those with low food security and very low food security.

  • 14.5 percent (17.6 million) of U.S. households were food insecure at some time during 2012.
  • Essentially unchanged from 14.9 percent in 2011.

Low food security—These food-insecure households obtained enough food to avoid substantially disrupting their eating patterns or reducing food intake by using a variety of coping strategies, such as eating less varied diets, participating in Federal food assistance programs, or getting emergency food from community food pantries.

  • 8.8 percent (10.7 million) of U.S. households had low food security in 2012.
  • Essentially unchanged from 9.2 percent in 2011.

Very low food security—In these food-insecure households, normal eating patterns of one or more household members were disrupted and food intake was reduced at times during the year because they had insufficient money or other resources for food. 

  • 5.7 percent (7.0 million) of U.S. households had very low food security at some time during 2012.
  • Unchanged from 5.7 percent in 2011.

Food Security Status of U.S. Households with Children in 2012

Among U.S. households with children under age 18:

  • 80.0 percent were food secure in 2012.
  • In 10.0 percent of households with children, only adults were food insecure.
  • Both children and adults were food insecure in 10.0 percent of households with children (3.9 million households).
  • Although children are usually protected from substantial reductions in food intake even in households with very low food security, nevertheless, in about 1.2 percent of households with children (463,000 households), one or more child also experienced reduced food intake and disrupted eating patterns at some time during the year.
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For more information, see the ERS report, Food Insecurity in Households With Children: Prevalence, Severity, and Household Characteristics, 2010-11.

How Many People Lived in Food-Insecure Households?

In 2012:

  • 49.0 million people lived in food-insecure households.
  • 12.4 million adults lived in households with very low food security.
  • 8.3 million children lived in food-insecure households in which children, along with adults, were food insecure.
  • 977,000 children (1.3 percent of the Nation's children) lived in households in which one or more child experienced very low food security.

For more information, see Food Insecurity in the U.S.: Frequency of Food Insecurity.

Food Insecurity by Household Characteristics

The prevalence of food insecurity varied considerably among household types. Rates of food insecurity were higher than the national average (14.5 percent) for the following groups:

  • All households with children (20.0 percent),
  • Households with children under age 6 (20.5 percent),
  • Households with children headed by a single woman (35.4 percent),
  • Households with children headed by a single man (23.6 percent),
  • Black, non-Hispanic households (24.6 percent),
  • Hispanic households (23.3 percent), and
  • Low-income households with incomes below 185 percent of the poverty threshold (34.3 percent; the Federal poverty line was $23,283 for a family of four in 2012).
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  • Overall, households with children had a substantially higher rate of food insecurity (20.0 percent) than those without children (11.9 percent). Among households with children, married-couple families had the lowest rate of food insecurity (13.2 percent).
  • The prevalence of food insecurity was highest for households located in principal cities of metropolitan areas (16.9 percent), intermediate for those in nonmetropolitan areas (15.5 percent) and lowest in suburban and other metropolitan areas outside principal cities (12.7 percent).
  • Regionally, the food insecurity rate was highest in the South (16.0 percent), intermediate in the West (14.4 percent) and Midwest (14.2 percent), and lowest in the Northeast (11.9 percent).

Very Low Food Security by Household Characteristics

The prevalence of very low food security in various types of households followed a pattern similar to that observed for food insecurity overall. Very low food security was more prevalent than the national average (5.7 percent) for the following groups:

  • Households with children headed by a single woman (12.7 percent),
  • Women living alone (7.5 percent) and men living alone (7.3 percent),
  • Black, non-Hispanic households (10.4 percent),
  • Hispanic households (7.4 percent),
  • Households with incomes below 185 percent of the poverty line (14.5 percent), and
  • Households located in principal cities of metropolitan areas (6.7 percent).
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Trends in Prevalence Rates

The prevalence of food insecurity declined from 11.9 percent of households in 2004 to 11.0 percent in 2005 and remained near that level until 2007. In 2008, the prevalence of food insecurity increased to 14.6 percent of households and was essentially unchanged at that level through 2012 (14.5 percent). The prevalence of very low food security remained essentially unchanged from 2004 (3.9 percent) to 2007 (4.1 percent), then increased to 5.7 percent in 2008, remained at 5.7 percent in 2009, declined to 5.4 percent in 2010, and returned to 5.7 percent in 2011 and 2012.

The year-to-year deviations from a consistent downward trend between 1995 and 2000 include a substantial 2-year cycle that is believed to result from seasonal effects on food security prevalence rates. The CPS food security surveys over this period were conducted in April in odd-numbered years and August or September in even-numbered years. Measured prevalence of food insecurity was higher in the August/September collections, suggesting a seasonal-response effect. In 2001 and later years, the surveys were conducted in early December, which avoids seasonality effects in interpreting annual changes.

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State-Level Prevalence of Food Insecurity

Prevalence rates of food insecurity varied considerably from State to State. Data for 3 years, 2010-12, were combined to provide more reliable statistics at the State level. Estimated prevalence rates of food insecurity during this 3-year period ranged from 8.7 percent in North Dakota to 20.9 percent in Mississippi; estimated prevalence rates of very low food security ranged from 3.2 percent in Virginia to 8.1 percent in Arkansas.

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This section is based on the publication Household Food Security in the United States in 2012.

Last updated: Wednesday, September 04, 2013

For more information contact: Alisha Coleman-Jensen and Mark Nord

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