When we think of lists Texas rates high on, the hunger list isn’t one that usually comes to mind. And yet, according to the recently released United States Department of Agriculture’s annual Household Food Security Survey[i] 17.2 percent of Texas households experience food insecurity, meaning they cannot always afford enough nutritious food to support a healthy life.
When Texans were asked about their ability to put food on the table, here’s what many said:
“We worried that our food would run out before we got money to buy more.”
“We couldn’t afford to eat balanced meals.”
“We skipped meals because there wasn’t enough money for food.”
These are some of the responses given by an estimated 1.7 million households in Texas (4.7 million total people) that struggled to feed themselves and their families on average in the years 2012-2014. Sadly, nearly 600,000 Texas households experienced such low food security that they actually cut back on the food they needed or at times did not eat. Texas is among the 14 states that had food insecurity rates higher than the national average.
Texas has long had one of the highest rates of household food insecurity in the country, and the new numbers show that Texans are having a tough time. Texas’ rate has actually dropped slightly since the worst of the recession when it reached a staggering 18.5 percent (2009-2011), but is still above the 16.4 percent rate of a decade ago (2002-2004).
What is behind Texas’ chronically high food insecurity rates? Although most Texans are working, their low wages can’t keep up with the increases in the basics like housing, health care and food prices. When families struggle to make ends meet, too often little is left for food. Low-income families are forced to make difficult choices as scarce resources are stretched, increasing the chance that they may go hungry.
Food insecurity affects families in all corners of the state – urban, suburban and rural areas. It affects children, adults and seniors, and families of all races and ethnicities and has serious long-term consequences. It means young children lack nutrients while they are still growing and developing, and can lead to delays in physical, intellectual and emotional growth. Food-insecure adults are at greater risk for chronic illnesses, such as diabetes[ii] and heart disease,[iii] from skipping meals or eating unhealthy foods. Food insecurity undermines the ability of millions of Texans to fully realize their potential, while also adding to the state’s education and health care costs.
Progress is possible. We have slowly expanded our nutrition safety net in Texas with more schools offering free meals to all their students thanks to Universal School Breakfast and the Community Eligibility Provision, as well as by finally lifting our ban on former drug felons receiving SNAP. But unless we do a better job of creating higher paying jobs, and educating all Texans to fill them, hunger will continue to be a sad reality in Texas.
To learn more about food insecurity and food assistance programs in Texas, please see our comprehensive overview Food and Nutrition in Texas: What You Need to Know.
[i] Coleman-Jensen, Alisha, Matthew Rabbitt, Christian Gregory, and Anita Singh. Household Food Security in the United States in 2014, ERR-194, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, September 2015.
[ii] Seligman, et. al. (2007). Food insecurity is associated with diabetes mellitus: Results from the national health examination and nutrition examination survey *NHANES) 1999-2002. Journal of general internal mecdicine 22(7): 1018-1023. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2583797/
[iii] Ford ES. Food Security and Cardiovascular Disease Risk Among Adults in the United States: Findings From the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2003–2008. Prev Chronic Dis 2013;10:130244. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5888/pcd10.130244External Web Site Icon.