Food insecurity in the United States fell last year from 12.3 percent to 11.8 percent of U.S. households, the sixth straight year of declines following the 2007 recession, USDA's Economic Research Service reported today.

The overall rate represents about 15 million households, ERS said. “Food-insecure households (those with low and very low food security) had difficulty at some time during the year providing enough food for all their members due to a lack of resources,” the report said.

ERS classifies households as “food secure” or having “low food security” or “very low food security.” Households with low food security made up 7.3 percent of the responses, while the rate of very low food security decreased from 4.9 percent in 2016 to 4.5 percent last year, ERS found in its report, “Household Food Security in the United States in 2017.”

The report was based on an annual survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau and covered more than 37,000 households. One adult per household was asked questions about experiences and behaviors that indicated food insecurity. For example, low food security is defined by responses to a series of statements and questions, such as, “In the last 12 months, did you or other adults in the household ever cut the size of your meals or skip meals because there wasn’t enough money for food?” ERS said that low food-insecure households generally reported inadequate quality, variety or desirability of their food, not reduced food consumption.

In households with very low food security “normal eating patterns of some household members were disrupted at times during the year and their food intake reduced below levels they considered appropriate,” ERS sociologist Alisha Coleman-Jensen said today in a webinar about the report.

Despite the years-long decline in overall food insecurity, about the same percentage of children were food-insecure in 2017 as in recent years.

“Children were food insecure at times during 2017 in 7.7 percent of U.S. households with children (2.9 million households), essentially unchanged from 8 percent in 2016,” the report said. “These households were unable at times to provide adequate, nutritious food for their children. As in 2015 and 2016, the 2017 prevalence of food insecurity among children was near the 2007 pre-recession level of 8.3 percent.”

ERS said, however, that the prevalence of very low food security “declined significantly from 2016 to 2017 among all households with children (from 4.8 percent in 2016 to 4.1 percent in 2017).” 

The rates of food insecurity varied considerably depending on where people lived and which group was being analyzed. Using rates averaged from 2015-17 to provide more reliability, ERS said Hawaii had the lowest rate of food insecurity, at 7.4 percent, and New Mexico had the highest, at 17.9 percent.

Interested in more news about the farm bill, trade issues, pesticide regulations and more hot topics?

Sign up here for a four-week Agri-Pulse free trial. No risk and no obligation to pay.

“Food insecurity was higher than the national average for households in principal cities of metropolitan areas (13.8 percent) and in nonmetropolitan (rural) areas (13.3 percent), and lower for households in suburbs/exurbs and other metropolitan areas outside principal cities (9.4 percent),” ERS said. But ERS added that the 13.3 percent rate in rural areas reflected a “statistically significant decline in food insecurity for households outside metropolitan areas (nonmetropolitan) from 15 percent in 2016.”

The South, at 13.4 percent, had the highest rate of all regions in the United States. The rate in the Midwest (11.7 percent) was higher than in the Northeast (9.9 percent) or the West (10.7 percent).

ERS’s report said that about 58 percent of food-insecure households in the survey reported that in the previous month, “they had participated in one or more of the three largest federal nutrition assistance programs (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program; Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC); and the National School Lunch Program).” The survey was conducted in December.

“SNAP provided assistance to 43.1 percent of food-insecure households; children in 30.5 percent of food-insecure households received free or reduced-price school lunches; and women or children in 9.4 percent of food-insecure households received WIC food vouchers,” ERS said.

ERS listed the following groups as having rates of food insecurity higher than the national average in 2017:

  • All households with children (15.7 percent)
  • Households with children under age 6 (16.4 percent)
  • Households with children headed by a single woman (30.3 percent) or a single man (19.7 percent) and other households with children (18.1 percent)
  • Women living alone (13.9 percent) and men living alone (13.4 percent)
  • Households headed by Black non-Hispanics (21.8 percent) and Hispanics (18 percent)
  • Households with incomes below 185 percent of the poverty threshold (30.8 percent).

For more news, go to