Nearly one out of five Texas households struggled to feed their families in 2011, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture study on hunger released this week.
Texas ranks third–behind Mississippi and Arizona—in food-insecure households, meaning they lack a steady and dependable food supply for active, healthy lives.
Hunger occurs when food insecurity is severe or persistent enough to cause family members to reduce food consumption below normal. Food-insecure households may have to ration food supplies. Food insecurity is a household-level characteristic, while hunger is an individual physiological condition.
Nearly 18 million U.S. households were food insecure in 2011. That translates to about 14.9 percent of the nation’s households. In Texas, that figure was 18.5 percent.
In Dallas County, the food-insecurity rate exceeds that of Texas, at 19.5 percent. Corresponding rates in other North Texas counties are: Tarrant, 17 percent; Denton, 15.4 percent; and Collin, 15.2 percent, according to an analysis by Feeding America.
Locally, food insecurity is more prevalent in non-poverty-level households. A family of four that earns $42,642 annually is at 185 percent of the federal poverty level. For Texas and Dallas County, 28 percent of households earning more than that are food-insecure. In Tarrant County, the rate was 40 percent, while it was 57 percent in Denton County and 64 percent in Collin County.
Andrea Helms, Tarrant Area Food Bank director of communications, said more affluent households in its service area may be food-insecure, but often earn too much income to qualify for government assistance.
Jennifer Bussell, senior manager of communications for the North Texas Food Bank, which covers Dallas and Collin counties, said in response to the USDA study: “The rate of food insecurity in Texas really hasn’t changed. Nearly one in five Texans are hungry, or at risk of hunger. This is still among one of the highest rates of food insecurity in the country, and should be unacceptable to every Texan. ”
Of those food-insecure households, one out of three had what the USDA calls “very low food insecurity”—meaning one or more household members restricted food consumption because of lack of money or access to food.
Nearly nine U.S. million children lived in food-insecure households in 2011.
About 85 percent of food-insecure households had a working adult, 70 percent of whom had a full-time job. Fewer than half had an adult with more than a high school education. Of those households where children are food-insecure, about half were headed by single women.
Two significant developmental risks are the lack of nutrients at critical points of a child’s physical and mental development, and the psychological stress of not having a reliable food source that can infect the entire household. Nearly one-half of caregivers in food-insecure households have symptoms of depression. The effects of the retarded childhood development from food insecurity can linger long into adulthood.
For children 3 to 8 years old, food insecurity is more likely to affect physical development and academic performance, as well as weight control and social functioning through adolescence.
The cruel irony is that women and children in food-insecure households are more likely to be obese. Low-income households spend less on food, and the least-expensive food generally is higher in calories and lower in nutrients.
The federal government spends about $60 billion a year on food and nutrition assistance on programs that largely target children. Children under 18 comprise about half of the beneficiaries of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly the Food Stamp Program, which is the largest food assistance program. About 7-10 percent of U.S. households participate in the program at any given time, but only about 60 percent of those eligible actually participate. More than half of all food stamp households are food insecure. Nearly half of all U.S. children will live in a household that receives food stamps for one year before they are 20 years old.
Both parties in Congress have proposed spending cuts in the food stamp program to help reduce the federal deficit. The Republican-led House of Representatives proposed cuts of $16.5 while the Democrat-led Senate version was about $4.5 billion. Each food-stamp beneficiary receives about $4.30 a day, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
Steve Jacob is editor of D Healthcare Daily and author of the new book Health Care in 2020: Where Uncertain Reform, Bad Habits, Too Few Doctors and Skyrocketing Costs Are Taking Us. He can be reached at email@example.com.