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Overview of Surveys

This page provides information about the following surveys:

Current Population Survey Food Security Supplement (CPS-FSS)

The Current Population Survey Food Security Supplement (CPS-FSS) is the source of national and State-level statistics on food insecurity used in USDA's annual reports on household food security. The CPS is a monthly labor force survey of about 50,000 households conducted by the Census Bureau for the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Once each year, after answering the labor force questions, the same households are asked a series of questions (the Food Security Supplement) about food security, food expenditures, and use of food and nutrition assistance programs. Food security data have been collected by the CPS-FSS each year since 1995.

Data Files

Public-use household-level CPS-FSS data files are available for each year, beginning in 1995, through the DataFerrett system of the U.S. Census Bureau, on CD-ROM from the U.S. Census Bureau in ASCII format, or, beginning in 2010, from downloads via FTP from the Census Bureau.

  • The DataFerrett system at the U.S. Census Bureau may be used to download data or to carry out tabulations online. The documentation on the DataFerrett site is limited; more detailed documentation, including a full data dictionary, copy of the questionnaire, and user notes, can be downloaded from the Census Bureau's website.
  • Alternatively, data for 1995-2009 may be purchased from the U.S. Census Bureau on CD-ROM by calling the Customer Service Center at (301) 763-4636.
  • Beginning with the 2010 survey, data and documentation may be downloaded via FTP from the Census Bureau.
  • As of 2010, replicate weights to support balanced repeated replication variance estimates are available.  The replicate weight data file and usage instructions are available for download from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Four data sets that complement those available from the Census Bureau are available for download on the ERS website.  These are available as ASCII uncompressed or zipped files.  The purpose and appropriate use of these additional data files are described below:

1) CPS 1995 Revised Food Security Status data—This file provides household food security scores and food security status categories that are consistent with procedures and variable naming conventions introduced in 1996. This includes the "common screen" variables to facilitate comparisons of prevalence rates across years. This file must be matched to the 1995 CPS Food Security Supplement public-use data file. To download the technical documentation, see CPS April 1995 Food Security Supplement and Revision: Technical Documentation.

2) CPS 1998 Children's and 30-day Food Security data—Subsequent to the release of the April 1999 CPS-FSS public-use data file, USDA developed two additional food security scales to describe aspects of food security conditions in interviewed households not captured by the 12-month household food security scale. This file provides three food security variables (categorical, raw score, and scale score) for each of these scales along with household identification variables to allow the user to match this supplementary data file to the CPS-FSS April 1998 data file. To download the technical documentation, see CPS 1998 Children's and 30-Day Food Security Data File: Technical Documentation.

3) CPS 1999 Children's and 30-day Food Security data—Subsequent to the release of the April 1999 CPS-FSS public-use data file, USDA developed two additional food security scales to describe aspects of food security conditions in interviewed households not captured by the 12-month household food security scale. This file provides three food security variables (categorical, raw score, and scale score) for each of these scales along with household identification variables to allow the user to match this supplementary data file to the CPS-FSS April 1999 data file. To download the technical documentation, see CPS 1999 Children's and 30-Day Food Security Data File: Technical Documentation.

4) CPS 2000 30-day Food Security data—Subsequent to the release of the September 2000 CPS-FSS public-use data file, USDA developed a revised 30-day CPS Food Security Scale. This file provides three food security variables (categorical, raw score, and scale score) for the 30-day scale along with household identification variables to allow the user to match this supplementary data file to the CPS-FSS September 2000 data file. To download the technical documentation, see CPS 2000 30-Day Food Security Data File: Technical Documentation.

5) Spanish language CPS Food Security Supplement—A Spanish translation of the U.S. Household Food Security Survey Module was developed by USDA researchers from previous translations by researchers at UCLA and the National Center for Health Statistics. ERS recommends this translation for use among Spanish-speaking populations within the United States.

Note that all downloaded files, either from the Census Bureau or the ERS website, are large raw data files—one record per interviewed household or person—not tables of statistics. Knowledge of the subject matter, survey methods, survey data format, and data analysis is required to use the files. For statistical summaries and technical reports that are based on these data, see the Readings under the topic Food Security in the U.S. The technical documentation/user notes and questionnaires are available for each file of the CPS-FSS and will facilitate the appropriate use of the data for each of the years. The notes and questionnaires are not identical across years.

Release Dates

CPS-FSS data are released approximately nine months after the survey is completed, following quality assurance checks by the Census Bureau and ERS. Data are currently released in early September.

American Housing Survey (AHS)

In 2015, the American Housing Survey (AHS) included the 30-day, 10-item Adult Food Security Survey Module. The AHS is sponsored by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau. The survey is the most comprehensive national housing survey in the United States. The survey includes information on housing costs for owners and renters, reasons for moving, health and safety hazards in the home, and use of housing counseling services. The AHS data and documentation are available at the U.S. Census Bureau.

Early Childhood Longitudinal Surveys

Early Childhood Longitudinal Survey, Birth Cohort of 2001 (ECLS-B)

The ECLS-B, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), followed a nationally representative sample of approximately 14,000 children born in 2001 from birth through kindergarten entry. Food security information was collected in parent surveys in several waves of the survey. Food security data are in the main data files available from the National Center for Education Statistics.

Early Childhood Longitudinal Survey, Kindergarten Class of 1998-99 (ECLS-K)

The ECLS-K, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), followed a nationally representative sample of approximately 22,000 children from kindergarten in 1998-99 through eighth grade. One purpose of the program was to provide data to test hypotheses about the effects of a wide range of family, school, community, and individual variables on children's development, early learning, and early performance in school.

Several waves of the ECLS-K included the Food Security Core Module in surveys of the parents of children in the study. Food security data were collected in the spring, parent interviews when the children were in kindergarten (Round 2, 1999), 3rd grade (Round 5, 2002), and 5th grade (Round 6, 2004) and parent interviews in the fall when the children were in grade 8 (Round 7, 2006).

Data on the food security of households with children in the ECLS-K are provided in the NCES public-use data for Rounds 5-7. The base year (Round 2) Food Security File was prepared by ERS to provide corresponding food security data for households interviewed in Round 2.

Early Childhood Longitudinal Survey, Kindergarten Class of 2010-11 (ECLS-K:2011)

Coming more than a decade after the inception of the ECLS-K, ECLS-K:2011 will allow cross-cohort comparisons of two nationally representative kindergarten classes experiencing different policy, educational, and demographic environments. The ECLS-K:2011, also sponsored by NCES, followed a nationally representative sample of approximately 18,000 children from kindergarten through fifth grade.

Several waves of the ECLS-K:2011 included the Food Security Core Module in surveys of the parents of children in the study. Two waves (3rd and 4th grade) collected only the 10-item Adult Food Security Survey Module, excluding the 8 child food security items, while the remaining waves collected the full 18-item Household Food Security Survey Module. Food security data were collected in the parent interviews when the children were in kindergarten (Spring 2011), 1st grade (Spring 2012), 3rd grade (Spring 2014; Adult Food Security Survey Module), 4th grade (Spring 2015; Adult Food Security Survey Module) and 5th grade (Spring 2016).

Data on the food security of households with children in the ECLS-K:2011 are provided in the NCES public-use data.

FoodAPS National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS)

USDA's National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS) is the first nationally representative survey of American households to collect unique and comprehensive data about household food purchases and acquisitions. Detailed information was collected about foods purchased or otherwise acquired for consumption at home and away from home, including foods acquired through food and nutrition assistance programs. FoodAPS also included the 30-day, 10-item Adult Food Security Survey Module. More information, data access, and documentation are available on the ERS website.

National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES)

The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) is a program of studies designed to assess the health and nutritional status of adults and children in the United States. The survey is unique in that it combines interviews and physical examinations. NHANES is a major program of the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS). NHANES includes the U.S. Household Food Security Survey Module and can be used to understand linkages between food security and nutrition. The NHANES interview also includes demographic, socioeconomic, dietary, and health-related questions. The examination component consists of medical, dental, and physiological measurements, as well as laboratory tests administered by highly trained medical personnel. NHANES data and documentation are available at NCHS.

National Health Interview Survey (NHIS)

The National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) is the principal source of information on the health of the civilian non-institutionalized population of the United States and is conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS).  In 2011, USDA began to sponsor the inclusion of the 10-item adult 30-day food security module on the NHIS.  Given the extensive health information collected in the NHIS, these data are a rich source for examining both the effects of long-term health problems and disability on food insecurity as well as the effects of food insecurity on more immediate health outcomes. The NHIS public-use family data file available on the NCHS website includes responses to each of the 10 food security items. The NCHS Survey Description document provides guidance for users on how to create food security scores that summarize adult food security status for the family using the standard USDA food security classifications based on the 10 adult items.

Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) Food Security Files

The PSID is an ongoing longitudinal survey, begun in 1968, of a representative sample of U.S. individuals and their families. Data and documentation are available from the PSID website at the University of Michigan. Food security information was collected in the following surveys:

  • Child Development Supplement (CDS-I and CDS-2014)—In 1997, PSID supplemented its core data collection with data on parents and their 0- to 12-year-old children, the Child Development Supplement (CDS). The 1997 PSID-CDS survey and the CDS-2014 survey of the children's primary caregivers included the U.S. Household Food Security Survey Module.
  • PSID 1999, 2001, 2003, and 2015 Family Surveys—The PSID 1999, 2001, 2003, and 2015 family survey included the 18 questions in the U.S. Household Food Security Survey Module.

Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP)

The Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) is a household-based survey designed as a continuous series of national panels to provide accurate and comprehensive information about the income and program participation of individuals and households in the United States. The SIPP 1996 and 2001 Wave 8 Food Security Data Files contain summary food security status information for each household that was interviewed in the SIPP Wave 8 Topical Modules on Adult Well-Being and are matched to the main SIPP Wave 8 Topical Module Data Files at the household level. The food security status variables were calculated based on responses to five questions from the U.S. Food Security Survey Module that were included in the SIPP Topical Modules. The food security questions refer to the 4 months prior to the survey. The main SIPP data files, available from the U.S. Census Bureau, contain basic demographic, economic, and social characteristics data for each member of interviewed households.

The 2004 SIPP included food security information in the Wave 5 Topical Modules on Adult Well-Being, and the 2008 SIPP included food security information in the Waves 6 and 9 Topical Modules on Adult Well-Being. These data and documentation are available for download from the Census Bureau.

Survey of Program Dynamics (SPD)

The Survey of Program Dynamics (SPD) was an annual survey, beginning in 1997, of households that had been interviewed periodically during several earlier years in the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP). The SPD was designed specifically to monitor and assess outcomes of welfare program changes that started in 1996. It included questions on a broad array of topics including income, employment, use of food and nutrition assistance programs, and receipt of cash welfare. Beginning in 1998 and continuing in subsequent years, the SPD included the U.S. Household Food Security Survey Module.

The SPD food security status files, available for 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, and 2002, contain summary food security status information for households interviewed in the SPD. The food security status variables were calculated by ERS based on responses to the questions in the U.S. Household Food Security Survey Module included in the SPD. The food security status files are matched to the main SPD data files for the respective years at the household level and are intended to be used in conjunction with those files. The main SPD data files, available from the U.S. Census Bureau, contain data on demographic, economic, and social characteristics of households and household members, focusing on eligibility for and use of public assistance programs.

Food Security in the United States
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Last updated: Monday, September 18, 2017

For more information contact: Alisha Coleman-Jensen, Christian A. Gregory, and Matthew P. Rabbitt

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