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1 in 10 Kids Face Food Insecurity, Social Determinants of Health

CDC data from between 2019 and 2020 revealed key health disparities in the number of kids facing food insecurity and social determinants of health.

About one in ten kids experience food insecurity, a serious social determinant of health, between 2019 and 2020, with new CDC data revealing steep racial, geographic, and disease state health disparities emerging.

The data, prepared by the National Center for Health Statistics, found Black and Hispanic children were around 1.5 times as likely to experience food insecurity as White children. Meanwhile, children with disabilities were about twice as likely to face food insecurity. Kids living in large metropolitan centers were slightly more likely to see food-related social determinants of health, as were children in nonmetropolitan or rural areas.

These figures come as the medical industry centers food security as a key social determinant of health. Experts agree that food security is a primary social need for which healthcare organizations can provide actionable and effective social services referrals, making it a key measure for CDC.

Food security can also have strong health impacts, CDC added.

“Food insecurity, which affects an estimated 15 million Americans, is the limited or uncertain availability of safe and nutritionally adequate foods, or the limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways,” the agency wrote in its analysis. “Food insecurity has been consistently associated with poor health outcomes in children, including poorer overall health status, acute and chronic health problems, and limited healthcare access.”

Overall, 10.8 percent of kids ages 0 to 17 lived in a food-insecure household within the past 30 days, per the 2019-2020 National Health Interview Survey. The survey, which respondents answered based on their household experiences over the prior 30 days, measured food insecurity based on food rationing, hunger, the nutritional value of food, and weight loss due to limited food intake.

There were no age- or gender-based health disparities, CDC noted, but there were racial health disparities.

While 6.5 percent of non-Hispanic White children lived in a food-insecure household, 18.8 percent of Black children and 15.7 percent of Hispanic children did.

There were also disparities based on disability status, which households with a child with a disability being nearly twice as likely to report food insecurity. While 9.8 percent of households with a child without a disability experienced food insecurity, a whopping 19.3 percent of households with a child with a disability reported the same.

Geographic location, particularly rurality and urbanity, drove food insecurity. About 13 percent of kids living in a large, central metropolitan area reported food insecurity, while 12.9 percent in a nonmetropolitan area—a rural area—reported the same. Kids living in large fringe metropolitan areas or medium and small metropolitan areas were less likely to face food insecurity, with 7.4 and 10.5 percent of households reporting barriers, respectively.

There were a few family characteristics, like single-parent households, that CDC tied to food insecurity. Nearly 20 percent of single-parent households in which no other adults lived reported food insecurity, compared to only 7.7 percent of households with other family structures.

The number of children, too, influenced food insecurity. Thirteen percent of households with three or more kids reported food insecurity, the report noted, while 9.4 percent of households with fewer children said the same.

The CDC report did not evaluate the reasons behind these health disparities, although income and access to food sources like grocery stores and food pantries are likely at play. However, understanding populations that are more susceptible to food insecurity—racial and ethnic minorities, families with a child with disabilities, rural and urban households, and households with more kids and single parents—can help tailor interventions.

“Access to sufficient and nutritious food is a key social determinant of health,” CDC concluded. “As such, disparities in food insecurity may contribute to inequalities in child health status. Information that characterizes disparities in food insecurity may help target interventions to reduce these disparities and promote positive child health outcomes.”

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