Updated: October 2022
Author: Physical Activity and Nutrition Program, Vermont Department of Health
Food insecurity is defined as the lack of access to enough food to fully meet basic needs at all times due to lack of financial resources. Households that are classified as food insecure with hunger are those in which adults have decreased the quality and quantity of food they consume because of lack of money. The adults are quite likely to be hungry on a frequent basis or are at a point where their children's intake has been reduced due to lack of family financial resources. These children are likely to be hungry on a regular basis and the adults' food intake is also likely to be severely reduced.
Using the Current Population Survey, Food Security Supplement, Vermont’s rate of food insecure households is 8.6%; the Healthy Vermonters 2020 goal is to have less than 5% of households living with food insecurity.
According to a review by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, food insecurity in states varies by, and depends on, household factors, such as income, employment and household structure (i.e. single parents), as well as state-level characteristics, such as average wages, cost of housing, levels of participation in food assistance programs (including summer meal programs for children) and tax policies.
According to the Food Research and Action Center, the effects of hunger on children can be detrimental to their health, well-being, and lifelong success. Children living in food insecure homes are at greater risk for poor health, nutritional deficiencies and obesity/overweight, as well as developmental delays, poor academic achievement, depression, and increased aggressive or hyperactive behavior.
This indicator is part of Healthy Vermonters 2020, which documents the health status of Vermonters at the start of the decade and the population health indicators and goals that will guide the work of public health through 2020.
In order to impact food insecurity and improve health, we need to increase access to affordable, high quality food, especially for low income populations and assure people are taking advantage of federal food benefit programs, as appropriate. These programs include 3SquaresVT (formerly Food Stamps), WIC, in school and out-of-school time meals, and child care meal programs.
The United State Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Recommended Community Strategies and Measurements to Prevent Obesity in the United States note that farmers markets, community-supported agriculture programs, farm-to-school initiatives, and SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) outreach programs are all effective ways to increase access to nutritional food. Focusing on availability and affordability, as well as sustainability and economic viability, is crucial to the success of any initiative aiming to reduce food insecurity.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Services (FNS) Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides nutrition benefits to eligible low-income households so they can purchase food from authorized food retailers. The goal of SNAP-Ed, a program under SNAP, is to improve the likelihood that people eligible for SNAP will make healthy food choices within a limited budget and choose physically active lifestyles consistent with the 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the USDA food guidance, MyPlate. The Vermont Department of Health manages SNAP-Ed funding through a Memorandum of Understanding with the Department for Children and Families. With this funding, a multilevel food access project is being implemented that includes grants to community-based organizations to provide education and help food shelves, childcare centers, and schools make policy and environmental changes to increase access to, and consumption of, healthy food, and increase physical activity among SNAP eligible Vermonters.
Since 2008, the Vermont Department of Health has provided grants and training to community coalitions who were required to build partnerships with local health advocates, residents, and town leaders to work toward improving access to healthy food within municipalities, focused on low income communities. This has resulted in established or expanding community gardens, farmers markets, and local food hubs in order to aggregate and distribute healthy food to food pantries, schools and other local institutions serving high need populations, see page 10 of the Vermont Healthy Community Design Resources, Examples for Creating Healthy Communities: Physical Activity, Healthy Eating, Tobacco, Alcohol & Drug Abuse Prevention. Offices of Local Health staff participated in the trainings and participate as partners in this work. Beginning in state FY2016, funding for all of the community coalitions ended. Many of the Office of Local Health staff continue this work, as appropriate.
Finally, the Vermont Department of Health staff lead the Vermont Nutrition Education Committee (VNEC), a group of professionals who meet regularly to discuss, plan, and improve coordination of food access efforts across the state, and are active participants on the Farm to Plate Food Access Cross Cutting Team and Farm to School Network, groups that are working to improve state policy and programs to increase access to local and healthy food among those Vermonters most in need.
The data for this measure are from the Current Population Survey (CPS), Food Security Supplement (FSS). This survey is conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau for the Bureau of Labor Statistics among the civilian non-institutionalized U.S. population 16 and older. The CPS is a labor force survey that contacts about 50,000 U.S. households a month. Then once each year, respondents from the CPS are asked a series of questions about food security, food expenditures, and use of food and nutrition assistance programs, the FSS. Over the course of the FSS survey period, about 1 in every 250 Vermont households are surveyed. To provide individual state measurements, the CPS FSS combines 3-years of data to ensure statistically meaningful results.