Food insecurity — the limited or uncertain access to enough food — is a critical child health issue that impacts children and families in all  communities. Unfortunately, one in six U.S. children lives in a food-insecure household. Children who live in households that are food insecure, even at the least severe levels of food insecurity, are likely to be sick more often, recover from illness more slowly, and be hospitalized more frequently. In a policy statement, Promoting Food Security for All Children, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that pediatricians screen for food insecurity and intervene accordingly.

No matter your practice or setting, it is likely or possible that you will be treating children from food-insecure households. You may not be able to tell who is food insecure just by looking at a child or family. However, certain children and households are more likely to be food insecure.

  • Households with children are nearly twice as likely to be food insecure as households without children.
  • Food insecurity rates for black and Hispanic households are substantially above the national average.
  • Households outside metropolitan areas (more rural areas) are seeing considerably deeper struggles with
    food insecurity compared to those within metropolitan areas.
  • Unemployment and underemployment are strongly associated with food insecurity.
  • Children in immigrant families, large families, families headed by single women, families with less
    education, and families experiencing parental separation or divorce are at greater risk for food insecurity.

While recognizing that some families may be more at risk, all families in inpatient and outpatient settings should be screened. You cannot necessarily tell by outward appearance who is food insecure.

“One in six children suffers from food insecurity and hunger. If children are poor, then almost one in two is food insecure. Unless you ask, you won’t be able to tell which child is going to bed hungry, and you won’t be able to connect their families to resources, like SNAP, WIC, or food pantries, that will help them get food.”

Benard P. Dreyer, MD, FAAP President , American Academy of Pediatrics (2016)