New Study Sheds Light on Varying Degrees of Food Insecurity Among Low-Income Families

Two young girls staring into empty fridge July 9, 2019

Food insecurity is often thought of as a state of economic well-being, with families being categorized as either food secure or insecure. However, a new study from the Center for Child and Family Policy at Duke University sheds light on the varying degrees to which low-income families experience food insecurity on a day to day basis. Published online in the Journal of Marriage and Family on July 9, the study leveraged daily survey reports from a sample of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipient parents with young children to examine daily variability in food insecurity within the SNAP benefit cycle. Researchers measured daily levels of food insecurity by assessing three different components of food insecurity: worry about running out of food, insufficiency in the quantity of food available, and concern about being able to afford balanced meals.

Based on the survey results and analysis, the study concludes that SNAP recipients experience considerable instability in their food insecurity from one day to the next, and that the severity of recipients’ daily food insecurity is higher at the end of the SNAP month than at the beginning. These findings add to growing evidence that SNAP benefits may not be sufficient to many families.

The study is the first of its kind to gather and analyze food insecurity diary data from SNAP recipients on a daily basis, allowing researchers to examine within-family change over time. “The key innovation of our approach was to gathering survey reports from SNAP recipients every day for a whole month. This allowed us to really see how much food insecurity varied from day to day,” said Anna Gassman-Pines, lead author of the study. “Our finding that food insecurity increases substantially in the second half of the SNAP month adds to the growing understanding that SNAP benefits are not enough for many families. Our results suggest that increasing benefit amounts, or possibly making SNAP disbursements more frequent, would also have the added benefit of reducing parents’ food insecurity.” Gassman-Pines is a professor in the Duke Sanford School of Public Policy and an associate director of the Center for Child and Family Policy. She co-authored the study with Anika Schenck-Fontaine, a postdoctoral researcher at the Leibniz Institute and former doctoral fellow at the Sanford School.