Vulnerable populations such as children, the elderly, ethnic minorities, and low-income households are disproportionately affected by food security, despite the extensive private and public food safety net in the United States, according to a new report by RTI International.
To produce the report, RTI conducted a comprehensive literature review and environmental scan of research on food insecurity from 2008 to the present time. The report examines key determinants, consequences and responses to food insecurity, while establishing a framework to guide the development of policy and programming recommendations.
Twenty percent of U.S. households with children (7.8 million households) experienced food insecurity in 2012; in half of those households, only adults were considered food insecure because adults often shield children from food insecurity. In the other half (3.9 million households), both children and adults were food insecure.
According to the report, food insecurity has broad social consequences for children, adults, and senior adults. For children, experiencing food insecurity can result in near-term developmental delays and poor health outcomes, longer-term educational setbacks, and negative impacts on the U.S. economy when educationally unprepared children become unprepared members of the labor force.
For adults, experiencing food insecurity can result in poor health status, leading to illness and development of chronic diseases, and can contribute to mental health issues such as depression. Adults experiencing food insecurity may also be less prepared for a competitive workforce because of diminished development of human capital, lowered productivity and more sick days.
Seniors experiencing food insecurity may have accelerated declines in health and cognitive function and increases in chronic disease development. Poor health status can increase health care usage (and thus, potentially increase costs to Medicare and Medicaid) and can further stress an already burdened health care system.