Within the extensive literature on food insecurity in the United States,
little work has been done on (1) the depth and severity of food insecurity
(as opposed to just the food insecurity rate) and (2) the food insecurity
status of American Indians. This study addresses both of these topics.
To measure food insecurity, three axiomatically derived measures of food
insecurity are used—the food insecurity rate, the food insecurity gap, and
the squared food insecurity gap. As expected, given that economic conditions
are worse for American Indians than for the rest of the population,
food insecurity levels are generally higher for American Indians than for the
rest of the population. However, the magnitude and significance of these
differences differ depending on the choice of food insecurity measure. If,
instead, only the food insecurity rate had been analyzed, the picture of food
insecurity among American Indians compared with the rest of the population
would be markedly different. Even after controlling for other factors in
multivariate frameworks, the comparisons between American Indians and
the rest of the population remain.
The study used data from the 2001, 2002, and 2003 Current Population
Survey (CPS), which surveys about 50,000 households monthly and
includes the Core Food Security Module (CFSM). Within the CFSM, a
household with children responding affirmatively to three or more questions
is deemed food insecure, and a household responding affirmatively to eight
or more questions is deemed food insecure with hunger. Affirmative responses,
then, are designated as a food security index. The CFSM contains 18 questions
pertaining to a household’s inability to meet basic food needs due to
financial constraints; for households without children, only 10 of the 18
questions are answered. Sample questions include: “Did you or the other
adults in your household ever cut the size of your meals or skip meals
because there wasn’t enough money for food,” or “Did a child in the household
ever not eat for a full day because you couldn’t afford enough food.”
Methodology included conversion of the CFSM affirmative responses to a
relevant value—that is, the food insecurity indicator. The Rasch scoring
method was used, which assumes that the probability of a household
answering a question positively or negatively follows a logistic distribution.
Using a maximum likelihood estimation based on the overall response
pattern of households to all questions, the Rasch score for each was derived.
The study found that across all three measures for the all-income sample
(food insecurity rate, food insecurity gap, and squared food insecurity
gap), food insecurity is higher among American Indians with children
than among the rest of the population with children and the differences
are statistically significant. For the low-income sample, the difference
between American Indians and the rest of the population is significant for
the food insecurity rate but not for the other two measures. For households
without children in the all-income and low-income samples, American
Indians have higher food insecurity rates than do the rest of the population.
In contrast to the food insecurity results, the study found no statistical
distinction between food insecurity with hunger between American Indians
and the rest of the population among households with children. In both the
all-income and low-income samples of households without children, American
Indians have higher food insecurity with hunger than do the rest of the
population across all three measures.
In general, American Indians have higher levels of food insecurity than do
the rest of the population, but this conclusion depends on the choice of
measure and choice of sample. The magnitude of the differences depends on
the choice of measure. These differences carry over to multivariate considerations
of differences between American Indians and the rest of the population.
Along with negative consequences from limited economic opportunities,
including high rates of obesity, diabetes, tooth decay, and low breastfeeding
rates, the study concludes that American Indians also face higher levels of
food insecurity, and these levels are especially prominent in households
The study suggests that further research is needed. Many other groups, such
as single parents with children, have higher than average food insecurity
rates, and a richer theoretical framework might be used with this population.
This study’s analysis used the CPS, but a wide array of other data sets exist
that have the CFSM, and this study’s theoretical framework could be used
with those as well. Also, numerous other income poverty measures may be
valid to employ as food insecurity measures. Finally, the study recommends
that on-reservation versus off-reservation residence may make a difference
in food insecurity. CPS does not track residence because of confidentiality,
so other available data sets, in conjunction with CPS, may allow for answers
to this issue.