Maryland Hunger Solutions uses two measures to describe the struggle many Marylanders face in accessing adequate food for their households.
“Food insecurity” is a term defined by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) that indicates that the availability of nutritionally adequate and safe food, or the ability to acquire such food, is limited or uncertain for a household. USDA also reports on “very low food security”, which occurs when one or more people in the household were hungry over the course of the year because they couldn’t afford enough food. USDA monitors the extent and severity of food insecurity in U.S. households through an annual, nationally representative survey.
According to the latest USDA’s report: Household Food Security in the United States, 2011(pdf):
- 12.5 percent of all households in Maryland were food insecure in 2009-2011.
- Among the 12.5 percent of Maryland households struggling with hunger, 5.6 percent were considered to have “very low food security.”
“Food Hardship” is a term defined by the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC). A respondent is defined to have experienced food hardship if he or she answers yes to the following question: “Have there been times in the past twelve months when you did not have enough money to buy food that you or your family needed?” This question is asked as part of a survey conducted by Gallup through the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index project, and provided to FRAC to be analyzed. Gallup is interviewing 1,000 households per day almost every day since January 2, 2008 for this project. People have been asked a series of questions on a range of topics including emotional health, physical health, healthy behavior, work environment and access to basic services.
According to FRAC’s food hardship reports:
- In 2011-2012, 16.2 percent in the state said they were unable to afford enough food.
- For the Baltimore-Towson MSA, the food hardship rate was 15.9 percent in 2011-2012.
- In 2009-2010, 20.8 percent of households with children in Maryland said they were unable to afford enough food. The food hardship rate for households without children was 13.2 percent.
- Seven out of the eight congressional districts in Maryland had at least one in seven (13.5 percent) or more of their households with children reporting food hardship in 2008-2010.
Note: Gallup’s question is very similar to one of the questions asked by the federal government in its annual survey of food security (see above) – this similarity provides a basis for concluding that the two questions are measuring food insecurity in quite similar ways. And while the Census Bureau/USDA’s additional questions allow a more nuanced view of the depth of food insecurity, the very large Gallup sample allows a closer, more localized and more recent look at food hardship. USDA’s data does not go beyond the state level; even at the state level, they use three-year averages.