High rates of food insecurity are a significant problem in the United States. It is currently estimated that more than 48.8 million people live in food insecure households, meaning that at some time during the previous year, they were unable to acquire or were uncertain of having enough food to meet basic needs due to inadequate household resources (Coleman-Jensen, Nord, Andrews, & Carlson, 2011). Rates of food insecurity are substantially higher among those in households with incomes below the poverty line (40.2%) and in households with children headed by a single woman (35.1%). Levels of food insecurity increased across U.S. households in 2008 as a result of the “Great Recession” rising from around 11 percent in the 2005-2006 time period to the measured high of approximately 14.5 in 2008, where it remains as of the 2010 estimate.

From a developmental perspective, it is believed that food insecurity has cumulative effects at different stages of development beginning in the prenatal period (Bhattacharya & Currie, and Haider 2004; Cook & Frank, 2008; Duncan, Brooks-Gunn & Klebanov, 1994; Pollit, 1994; Morgane, Austin-LaFrance, Bronzino, et al., 1993; Scholl, Johnson, 2000). During infancy, hunger has negative effects during the period of neurodevelopment. Controlled experiments with animals suggest that hunger results in irreversible damage to brain development such as that associated with the insulation of neural fibers (Yaqub, 2002). The damage associated with a lack of nutritional intake accumulated during the first 2 years of life includes susceptibility to infections, slowed cognitive development and physical growth, susceptibility to chronic diseases, and a higher risk of delivering low-birth weight babies. Other non-health related problems include reduced school performance, increased school dropout and reduced productivity during adulthood (Hoddinott, Beherman, Maluccio, Flores & Martorell, 2008).

Document Type

Research Paper

Publication Date


Discussion Paper Number

DP 2012-10