Apr 26, 2023 - Health

"Dramatic disparities" among the pandemic's hungriest households

Data: National Center for Health Statistics, National Health Interview Survey, 2021; Chart: Axios Visuals

Hunger rates were highest among Black and Latino households, women and adults with disabilities in a snapshot of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.

Why it matters: The detailed look at who is most vulnerable to food insecurity comes at a time when a long-standing congressional fight over food stamps has become a central issue in the debt limit debate.

How it works: An analysis by the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics published Thursday detailed the sociodemographic characteristics of food-insecure American families during 2021.

  • Researchers assessed data from the 2021 National Health Interview Survey, a nationally representative household sample, cross-comparing race, disability status, family composition and urbanization level with the severity of self-reported food insecurity.

What they found: In 2021, 5.9% of respondents aged 18 and older lived in families that experienced food insecurity within the past 30 days.

  • Women were more likely to live in food-insecure households than men — while the percentage of adults with disabilities living in families experiencing food insecurity was three times higher than those without disabilities.
  • The size and metropolitan status of the places respondents lived also made a difference, per the brief. (The largest proportion of adults living in food-insecure households resided in nonmetropolitan areas.)

By the numbers: When compared to white and Asian adults, family food insecurity was highest among non-Hispanic adults who identified with multiple races (12.7%); closely followed by Black adults (12.2%).

  • Hispanic adults (8%) were more likely to live in families experiencing food insecurity than white (4.1%) or Asian adults (3.7%), but less likely to live in families experiencing food insecurity than Black adults.
  • The analysis also found that single parent-households faced higher rates of food insecurity than married adults with no dependents.

What they're saying: “The data demonstrates some dramatic disparities in the experience of food insecurity, leaving some to be especially vulnerable,” data brief lead author and CDC statistician Julie Weeks tells Axios in an email.

  • Insufficient access to food, including nutritious food, increases the risk of a variety of chronic health conditions, leading to poor health outcomes, says Weeks.

Our thought bubble: These findings reinforce existing evidence regarding the systemic disparities that influence who faces the highest risk of hunger in the U.S.

Zoom in: Federal safety net programs disproportionately serve communities of color — a pattern that is linked to historically discriminatory policies and practices that have led to racially-based economic barriers in everything from housing to education.

  • According to a 2022 Center of Budget and Policy Priorities report, over the past 20 years, Black and Hispanic households in the U.S. have been "at least twice as likely" as white households to face food insecurity.

Meanwhile: Over a third of people enrolled in SNAP — which feeds more than 41 million Americans — belong to households with older adults or people with disabilities.

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to note that single parent-households faced higher rates of food insecurity, not security.

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