Study Finds Food Insecurity in Households Receiving WIC Benefits

By Anding, Jenna; Osborn, Lacye et al. | Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences, April 2006 | Go to article overview

Study Finds Food Insecurity in Households Receiving WIC Benefits


Anding, Jenna, Osborn, Lacye, Gorman, Mary Anne, Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences


This study assessed the prevalence of food insecurity and hunger in a sample of households in which one or more occupants were participants in the Special Supplemental Food Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). The sample consisted of 309 women from Ft. Worth, Texas, who completed an interview that included an assessment of their household food security status. Although a majority of the households were food secure, 35% had experienced food insecurity or hunger during the previous 12-month period. Consistent with previous research, the prevalence of food insecurity was higher among female-headed households and households with children younger than 5 years of age.

Food insecurity occurs when there is "limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods or limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways" (Hamilton et al., 1997, p. iii). If unaddressed, food insecurity may lead to hunger, malnutrition, disordered eating patterns (Kendall, Olson, & Frongillo, 1996; Olson, 1999; Rose, 1999; Rose & Oliveria, 1997), and social and health consequences such as disrupted household dynamics, impaired learning and reduced productivity among adults, poor behavioral and academic performance in children, increased health costs, and increased obesity risks (Alaimo, Olson, Frongillo, & Briefel, 2001; Hamelin, Habicht, & Beaudry, 1999; Townsend, Peerson, Love, Achterberg, & Murphy, 2001). A study conducted by casey et al. (2005) showed that health-related quality of life was poorer among children residing in food-insecure households than among those living in food-secure households.

Poverty is a risk factor for food insecurity, but its presence does not automatically make a household food insecure (American Dietetic Association, 1998). Other risk factors include lack of education, minority ethnic background, and large household size; female-headed households with children are at risk as well (Alaimo, Briefel, Frongillo, & Olson, 1998; American Dietetic Association, 1998; Nord et al., 2002; Olson, Rauschenbach, Frongillo, & Kendall, 1997; Rosé, 1999).

Pregnant women, infants, and children who reside in households with limited financial resources may be vulnerable to the health- and nutrition-related consequences of food insecurity (American Dietetic Association, 1998). This population represents the targeted audience of the Special Supplemental Food Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) (Cole, Hoaglin, & Kirlin, 2001). Research suggests that WIC participants typically demonstrate one or more risk factors for food insecurity (Cole et al., 2001; Nord & Bickel, 2002; Nord et al., 2002). For example, a majority of WIC households have incomes at or below 100% of the federal poverty level (Bartlett, Brown-Lyons, Moore, & Estacion, 2000). Furthermore, a national study of WIC participants revealed that 40% of WIC households are headed by a single adult, and nearly one third of WIC households with children have problems paying basic expenses such as rent or utilities (U.S. Department of Agriculture [USDA], 2000). Nationwide, nearly one in four WIC households have faced food insecurity or hunger within a 12month period (Cole et al., 2001), and one in 10 households with children have reported not having enough food to eat (Bartlett et al., 2000).

Nearly 10% of all WIC participants reside in Texas (Bartlett et al., 2000), a state tied for second and ninth place in terms of prevalence of food insecurity and hunger, respectively (Nord, Andrews, & Carlson, 2004). Because Texas has a higher rate of food insecurity than the reported national rate, it is possible that the prevalence of food insecurity and hunger among Texas WIC households is also higher. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to assess the food security status and prevalence of food insecurity and hunger among a sample of households in Texas receiving WIC benefits. …

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