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Food Insecurity and Hunger in the United States: An Assessment of the Measure
the individual level. The HFSSM does include items that are related to being hungry. Some or all of these items are probably appropriate in the food insecurity scale, but they contribute to the measurement of food insecurity and not the measurement of hunger.
The panel therefore concludes that hunger is a concept distinct from food insecurity, which is an indicator of and possible consequence of food insecurity, that can be useful in characterizing severity of food insecurity. Hunger itself is an important concept that should be measured at the individual level distinct from, but in the context of, food insecurity.
The broad conceptual definition of household food insecurity includes more elements than are included in the current USDA measure of food insecurity. Not all elements of the consensus conceptual definition of food insecurity have been incorporated into the USDA measurement of food insecurity in the United States. It was a decision of the Food Security Measurement Project to limit the operational definition and measurement approach to only those aspects of food insecurity that can be captured in a household-level survey. The other conceptually separable aspects of food insecurity are potentially distinct empirical dimensions. For example, the measurement does not include the supply of food or its safety or nutritional quality; these additional aspects would require developing measures and fielding separate surveys to measure them. Moreover, the food supply in the United States is generally regarded as safe, and nutritional adequacy is already assessed by other elements of the nutrition monitoring system, in particular the continuing National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. The panel therefore concludes that it is neither required nor necessarily appropriate for USDA to attempt to measure all the elements of the broad conceptual definition of food insecurity as part of the HFSSM.
The labeling used to categorize food insecurity is at the heart of the criticism of the current measurement system. In particular, the category “food insecure with hunger” has come under scrutiny because of disagreement over whether hunger is actually measured. The rationale for including hunger in the label for the classification is understandable. Hunger is a politically sensitive and evocative concept that conjures images of severe deprivation, and the HFSSM does include some items that are specifically related to hunger. However, the measurement of food insecurity rather than hunger is the primary focus of the HFSSM. As an indication of the severity of food insecurity, the HFSSM asks the household respondent if in the past 12 months she or he has experienced being hungry because of lack of food due to resource constraints. This is not the same as evaluating individual members of the household in a survey as to whether or not they have experienced hunger. The panel urges USDA to consider alternate labels to convey the severity of food insecurity without the problems inherent in the current labels.