Davos Agenda

How did COVID-19 spike U.S. food insecurity levels?

Schoolchildren eat their lunch at the canteen

The report said that the lack of school lunches made food insecurity more severe. Image: REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

Katharina Buchholz
Data Journalist, Statista
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Davos Agenda

  • Food insecurity increased in the US during 2020, according to a new report.
  • Almost 15% of households with children were classified as food insecure by the USDA.
  • Food insecurity is defined as experiencing difficulty to meet basic food needs in the span of one year.
  • The report said that the lack of school lunches and the closure of businesses due to lockdowns made food insecurity more severe.

During the pandemic year of 2020, food insecurity ticked up in the United States, especially for households with children. Almost 15 percent of them were classified as food insecure by the USDA, defined as experiencing difficulty to meet basic food needs in the span of one year under a number of different conditions. In 2019, that share had been 13.6 percent. For all households, food insecurity exited its downwards trajectory in 2020, with 10.5 percent of all U.S. households being classified as food insecure, the same as the previous year.

While the share of food-insecure households did not rise in the U.S. in 2020, the share of adults living in them did - from 9.8 percent to 10.5 percent. The share of children living in a food-insecure household rose even more from 14.6 percent to 16.1 percent. However, according to the USDA, it was often the adults in food-insecure households who restricted food intake, while attempting to shield children – especially younger ones – from negative effects.

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a chart showing how much food insecurity in the us increased during the pandemic
The negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on food security stayed behind those of the Great Depression between 2008 and 2011. Image: Statista

The report said that the lack of school lunches and the closure of businesses during coronavirus lockdowns made food insecurity more severe in 2020, while also pointing to federal and local government programs as well as the charitable sector as having already alleviated some of the year’s burden. The negative effects of the coronavirus pandemic on food security stayed behind those of the Great Depression between 2008 and 2011.

Household with children number around 38 million in the U.S., around 29 percent of all households, while children themselves make up around 22 percent of U.S. residents at 73 million.

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Related topics:
Davos AgendaAgriculture, Food and BeverageCOVID-19
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