Children Living in Food Insecure Households
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- Definition: Estimated number of children ages 0-17 living in households unable to provide adequate food for all household members for the entire year due to insufficient resources (e.g., in 2019, 1,205,260 California children lived in food insecure households).Estimated percentage of children ages 0-17 living in households unable to provide adequate food for all household members for the entire year due to insufficient resources (e.g., in 2019, 13.6% of California children lived in food insecure households).
- Data Source: Feeding America, Map the Meal Gap (Jul. 2021).
- Footnote: Due to changes in methodology, these estimates should not be compared with data for 2017 and earlier years. For more information, see Feeding America's technical appendix.
Learn More About Food Security
- Measures of Food Security on Kidsdata.org
Kidsdata.org provides the following indicators related to food security:
- The estimated number and percentage of children ages 0-17 living in food insecure households (i.e., households unable to provide adequate food for all household members for the entire year due to insufficient resources); these data also are shown for U.S. congressional districts
- The number of children ages 0-17 participating in CalFresh—California's implementation of the federal SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) or Food Stamps Program—in the month of July; the number of total CalFresh participants (children and adults), and number and percentage of households participating in CalFresh, by race/ethnicity, also are available
- The number of families redeeming Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) food vouchers for perinatal women and/or children ages 0-5 in the month of January, overall and by type of participant
- Food Security
- Family Income and Poverty
- Children in Poverty, by Race/Ethnicity
- Children Living in Areas of Concentrated Poverty
- Children in Deep Poverty
- Median Family Income, by Family Type
- Income Level for Children Relative to Poverty
- Income Level for Children Relative to Poverty, by Family Type
- Children Living in Low-Income Working Families
- Mothers with a Recent Birth Living in Families in Poverty
- Mothers with a Recent Birth Living in Low-Income Families
- Children in Poverty - Supplemental Poverty Measure (California & U.S. Only)
- Poverty Thresholds - California Poverty Measure, by Family Composition and Housing Tenure
- Children in Poverty - California Poverty Measure
- Children in Deep Poverty - California Poverty Measure
- Poverty-Reducing Effects of the Social Safety Net - California Poverty Measure, by Program Type and Poverty Level (California Only)
- Self-Sufficiency Standard, by Family Composition
- Families Living Below Self-Sufficiency Standard
- Children Participating in CalWORKs
- Student Demographics
- Childhood Adversity and Resilience
- Children with Adverse Experiences (Parent Reported), by Number (CA & U.S. Only)
- Children with Adverse Experiences (Parent Reported), by Type (CA & U.S. Only)
- Children with Two or More Adverse Experiences (Parent Reported), by Race/Ethnicity (CA & U.S. Only)
- Prevalence of Childhood Hardships (Maternal Retrospective)
- Basic Needs Not Met (Maternal Retrospective)
- Family Hunger (Maternal Retrospective)
- Prevalence of Adverse Childhood Experiences (Adult Retrospective; CA Only)
- Children Drinking One or More Sugar-Sweetened Beverages in the Past Day
- Children Eating Five or More Servings of Fruits or Vegetables in the Past Day, by Age Group
- Children Eating Fast Food Two or More Times in the Past Week, by Age Group
- Students Eating Breakfast in the Past Day, by Grade Level
- Healthy Food Choices Provided at School (Staff Reported)
- Why This Topic Is Important
In California and the U.S., around 1 in 7 children live in households without the resources for consistent, dependable access to enough food for all household members to enjoy active, healthy lives (1). Compared with food-secure children, children experiencing food insecurity are at higher risk for a host of health problems, including developmental, behavioral, and mental health issues, as well as acute and chronic medical conditions (2, 3). Food insecurity in children also is linked to higher rates of school absenteeism and emergency department use, and lower access to health care (3). Among pregnant women, food insecurity is associated with negative physical and mental health outcomes, as well as pregnancy complications (2). Households with children (particularly young children under age 6), low-income and single-parent households, and households of color are disproportionately affected by food insecurity (3, 4).
Food assistance programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or CalFresh in California) and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) provide a safety net to help ensure that low-income children, expectant mothers, and families get adequate nutrition. These programs have been shown to alleviate poverty, reduce adverse birth outcomes, and improve children's health in general (2, 3).For more information, see kidsdata.org’s Research & Links section. Also see kidsdata.org’s Student Demographics topic, which includes information about students eligible to receive free or reduced price school meals, and other topics under Family Economics.
Sources for this narrative:
1. As cited on kidsdata.org, Children living in food insecure households. (2021). Feeding America.
2. Food Research and Action Center. (2019). WIC is a critical economic, nutrition, and health support for children and families. Retrieved from: https://frac.org/research/resource-library/wic-is-a-critical-economic-nutrition-and-health-support-for-children-and-families
3. Peltz, A., & Garg, A. (2019). Food insecurity and health care use. Pediatrics, 144(4), e20190347. Retrieved from: https://publications.aap.org/pediatrics/article/144/4/e20190347/76973/Food-Insecurity-and-Health-Care-Use
4. Coleman-Jensen, A., et al. (2021). Household food security in the United States in 2020. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service. Retrieved from: https://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/pub-details/?pubid=102075
- How Children Are Faring
According to 2019 estimates, 14% of California children ages 0-17 (more than 1.2 million) lived in households unable to provide adequate food for all household members. At the local level, the share of children living in food insecure households ranged from less than 7% to more than 24% across counties and congressional districts.
The CalFresh (Food Stamps) supplemental nutrition program served more than 4.6 million Californians, including more than 1.8 million California children, in July 2020. The number of children participating in CalFresh has declined overall since 2014, when more than 2.2 million children were served.
In January 2020, 513,479 California families redeemed Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program healthy food vouchers, down from 585,256 in 2019.
- Policy Implications
Food insecurity—limited or uncertain access to adequate food—is a major public health problem in California and the U.S., affecting millions of children and families (1). The adverse effects of food insecurity on children can be particularly harmful, impacting their cognitive development, physical and mental health, and school performance (1, 2). Poverty and food insecurity disproportionately affect families of color, and while improvements have been made to state and federal safety net programs, these systems are fragmented and additional progress is needed to distribute services equitably (2, 3). Policymakers can work to ameliorate poverty, address economic and system inequities, preserve and strengthen food assistance programs, and expand access to nutritious, affordable foods in low-income communities.
Food and nutrition assistance programs address food insecurity by helping low-income children and families access nutritious and affordable meals. However, many eligible families are not receiving this assistance (3, 4, 5). For example, only 61% of eligible California families participate in the WIC Program (4).
Policy and program options that could improve food security include:
For more information, see kidsdata.org’s Research & Links section or visit Nourish California and Food Research and Action Center. Also see Policy Implications on kidsdata.org under Nutrition and topics related to Family Economics.
- Continuing to address under-enrollment in food assistance programs—such as WIC and CalFresh (food stamps)—by improving public awareness of these programs, and increasing integration and linkages between nutrition, health care, and other safety net supports in order to streamline enrollment and service delivery (3, 4, 5)
- Maintaining and strengthening recent state and federal legislation to provide healthy meals to low-income children in child care, ensuring that this assistance reaches children with the greatest needs; for example, reducing administrative burden and providing adequate training and support to increase provider participation in the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), especially in underserved areas (6, 7)
- Ensuring that California's Free School Meals for All Act of 2021 is implemented effectively at the local level so that all K-12 students receive healthy school meals (8)
- Continuing to promote robust nutrition programs for low-income children when school is out or when schools are closed due to emergencies; as part of this, ensuring that families are aware of such programs and that meals are provided in safe and welcoming environments, especially for immigrant families (8)
- Supporting local public-private collaborations, food councils, and other community initiatives and innovations that promote access to sustainable, affordable, and nutritious food for vulnerable families (9, 10)
- Continuing to strengthen and streamline state policies aimed at reducing economic inequities, such as the CalWORKs program and the California Earned Income Tax Credit, and improving access to safety net programs for groups experiencing the highest poverty levels, including undocumented immigrants (3)
- Supporting action at the federal level to reduce inequities in child food security through investments in nutrition assistance programs and improved coordination across agencies (11)
Sources for this narrative:
1. Feeding America. (n.d.). Map the meal gap: Child food insecurity in the United States. Retrieved from: https://map.feedingamerica.org/county/2019/child
2. Odoms-Young, A., & Bruce, M. A. (2018). Examining the impact of structural racism on food insecurity: Implications for addressing racial/ethnic disparities. Family and Community Health, 41(Suppl. 2), S3-S6. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5823283
3. Danielson, C., et al. (2021). California's future: Safety net. Public Policy Institute of California. Retrieved from: https://www.ppic.org/publication/californias-future-safety-net
4. California WIC Association. (2021). Linking WIC for health equity: Expanding access to WIC through horizontal integration. Retrieved from: https://www.calwic.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/Expanding-Access-to-WIC-Through-Horizontal-Integration_07_21.pdf
5. Danielson, C., et al. (2020). The importance of CalFresh and CalWORKs in children's early years. Public Policy Institute of California. Retrieved from: https://www.ppic.org/publication/the-importance-of-calfresh-and-calworks-in-childrens-early-years
6. Marshall, S. (2020). CACFP is moving from CDE to CDSS: Let's make sure we don't get lost in transition. CACFP Roundtable. Retrieved from: https://www.ccfproundtable.org/post/cacfp-is-moving-from-cde-to-cdss-let-s-make-sure-we-don-t-get-lost-in-transition
7. Cannon, M. (2021). State funding for child care meals finally realized. Nourish California. Retrieved from: https://nourishca.org/impact-stories/statefundingforchildcaremeals
8. Free School Meals for All Act of 2021, Cal. S. B. 364 (2021-2022). Retrieved from: https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtml?bill_id=202120220SB364
9. PolicyLink. (n.d.). Equitable food systems resource guide. Retrieved from: https://www.policylink.org/food-systems/equitable-food-systems-resource-guide
10. University of California Global Food Initiative. (2020). Addressing food insecurity for families and individuals in California experiencing housing insecurity. Retrieved from: https://www.ucop.edu/global-food-initiative/_files/gfi-npi-report-final-2020-02-13.pdf
11. Food Research and Action Center. (n.d.). Action center. Retrieved from: https://frac.org/action
- Research & Links
- Websites with Related Information
- CalFresh Program. California Dept. of Social Services.
- California Association of Food Banks
- California School Boards Association: Governance and Policy Resources
- California WIC Association
- Center for the Study of Social Policy: Addressing Poverty
- Center on Budget and Policy Priorities: Food Assistance
- Feeding America
- Food Research and Action Center
- Healthy Food Access Portal. PolicyLink, et al.
- No Kid Hungry. Share Our Strength.
- Nourish California
- Nutrition Policy Institute. University of California, Agriculture and Natural Resources.
- Public Policy Institute of California
- Roots of Change. Public Health Institute.
- U.S. Dept. of Agriculture: Food and Nutrition Assistance
- Urban Institute: Hunger and Food Assistance
- Women, Infants and Children Program. California Dept. of Public Health.
- Key Reports and Research
- Addressing Teen Hunger. (2021). Feeding America. Draftz, L., et al.
- After School Programs and Meals: Opportunities to Support Working Families in California. (2018). California Food Policy Advocates.
- An Update on the Portrait of Promise: Demographic Report on Health and Mental Health Equity in California. (2020). California Dept. of Public Health, Office of Health Equity.
- Equitable Food Systems Resource Guide. PolicyLink.
- Food Assistance Programs and Child Health. (2015). The Future of Children. Gundersen, C.
- Food Insecurity and Child Health. (2019). Pediatrics. Thomas, M. C., et al.
- Food Security in the U.S. U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Economic Research Service.
- Foreground to Horizon: Opportunities for WIC’s Next Half Century. (2016). California WIC Association.
- Free School Meals for All Here to Stay in California. (2021). EdSource. Tadayon, A.
- No Food for Thought: Food Insecurity Is Related to Poor Mental Health and Lower Academic Performance Among Students in California’s Public University System. (2018). Journal of Health Psychology. Martinez, S. M., et al.
- Promoting Food Security for All Children. (2015). Pediatrics. American Academy of Pediatrics, Council on Community Pediatrics & Committee on Nutrition.
- School Breakfast Program. Food Research and Action Center.
- School’s Out…Who Ate? A Report on Summer Nutrition in California. (2017). California Food Policy Advocates. Fischer Colby, A.
- SNAP Helps Struggling Families Put Food on the Table. (2019). Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
- The CalFresh Food Assistance Program. (2020). Public Policy Institute of California. Tan, D., & Danielson, C.
- The Child and Adult Care Food Program and Home-Based Child Care Providers: Expanding Participation. (2021). Urban Institute. Adams, G., & Hernandez, F.
- The Connections Between Food Insecurity, the Federal Nutrition Programs, and Student Behavior. (2018). Food Research and Action Center.
- The Importance of CalFresh and CalWORKs in Children’s Early Years. (2020). Public Policy Institute of California. Danielson, C., et al.
- WIC Facts and Figures. California WIC Association.
- WIC Works: Addressing the Nutrition and Health Needs of Low-Income Families for More Than Four Decades. (2021). Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Carlson, S., & Neuberger, Z.
- County/Regional Reports
- 2023 California County Scorecard of Children's Well-Being. Children Now.
- Annual Report on the Conditions of Children in Orange County. Orange County Children's Partnership.
- Community Health Improvement Plan for Los Angeles County. Los Angeles County Dept. of Public Health.
- Food Insecurity in Los Angeles County. (2017). Los Angeles County Dept. of Public Health.
- Important Facts About Kern’s Children. Kern County Network for Children.
- Key Indicators of Health by Service Planning Area. (2017). Los Angeles County Dept. of Public Health.
- Live Well San Diego Report Card on Children, Families, and Community. The Children’s Initiative.
- Pathway to Progress: Indicators of Young Child Well-Being in Los Angeles County. First 5 LA.
- San Mateo County All Together Better. San Mateo County Health.
- Santa Clara County Children's Data Book. Santa Clara County Office of Education, et al.
- Santa Monica Youth Wellbeing Report Card. Santa Monica Cradle to Career.
- State of Hunger in San Diego County. San Diego Hunger Coalition.
- More Data Sources For Food Security
- CalFresh Data Dashboard. California Dept. of Social Services.
- California Family Needs Calculator. Insight Center for Community Economic Development.
- California Health and Human Services Open Data Portal. California Health and Human Services Agency.
- California Health Interview Survey. UCLA Center for Health Policy Research.
- California Strong Start Index. First 5 Association of California & Children’s Data Network.
- County Health Rankings and Roadmaps. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation & University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.
- KIDS COUNT Data Center. Annie E. Casey Foundation.
- Map the Meal Gap. Feeding America.
- Maternal and Infant Health Assessment (MIHA). California Dept. of Public Health & University of California San Francisco.
- National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- National Survey of Children's Health. Child and Adolescent Health Measurement Initiative.
- SNAP-Ed County Profiles. California Dept. of Public Health.
- State and County Nutrition Profiles. Nourish California.
- State of the States: Profiles of Hunger, Poverty, and Federal Nutrition Programs. Food Research and Action Center.
- The Well-Being and Basic Needs Survey. Urban Institute.
- U.S. Dept. of Agriculture: Data Products
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