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Measuring the extent, depth, and severity of food insecurity: an application to American Indians in the USA

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Within the extensive food insecurity literature, little work has been done regarding (a) the depth and severity of food insecurity and (b) the food insecurity of American Indians. This paper addresses both these topics with data from the 2001 to 2004 Core Food Security Module of the Current Population Survey. To measure food insecurity, three axiomatically derived measures of food insecurity are used. As expected, given the worse economic conditions facing American Indians, their food insecurity levels are generally higher than non-American Indians. However, the magnitude and significance of these differences differ depending on the choice of food insecurity measure.

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  1. For a broader discussion of why direct indicators of well being and income measures may deviate, see Mayer and Jencks (1989). For more on why, in particular, measures of food insecurity may diverge from income-based measures see, e.g., Gundersen and Gruber (2001).

  2. Given the differences between households with and without children and the differences in questions being asked (as noted above, the former are asked 18 questions, the latter 10), one may question whether the scales being used are unidimensional. In response, I use two sets of food insecurity scales used by previous authors—one that is restricted to the ten questions relevant for households without children and one that is restricted to the eight questions only asked of households with children. The results from these estimations are discussed below.

  3. An analogy can be drawn with the educational testing literature where the Rasch model is often used. In that case, it would be presumed that no one question can reflect a student’s knowledge of, say, a particular subject, but rather a series of questions are needed to accurately portray his or her knowledge.

  4. A household is said to be food secure if all household members had access at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life. Households are said to be food insecure if they were uncertain of having, or unable to acquire, enough food for all household members because they had insufficient money and other resources for food. Households are said to be food insecure with hunger if one or more household members were hungry, at least some time during the year because they could not afford enough food (Nord et al. 2004).

  5. The percent of households responding affirmatively to zero questions is suppressed in the figures. If these values were included, in Fig. 1, 54.7% of American Indians responded affirmatively to zero questions and 74.8% of non-American Indians responded affirmatively to zero questions. In Fig. 2, the respective values are 71.5 and 85.9%.

  6. The results for food insecurity with hunger are available from the author upon request.

  7. Because a different set of questions are being used than in Table 1, the absolute values for α = 0 are not directly comparable across the two tables.

  8. As done in the previous two alternative specifications, I estimate a new set of Rasch scores. These are available from the author upon request.

  9. The coefficients on the other variables, the year fixed effects, and the state fixed effects are suppressed in Table 6 and subsequent tables but are available from the author upon request. These variables are of the expected sign and statistical significance.

  10. For recent work, see, e.g., Vozoris and Tarasuk (2003), Che and Chen (2001), Adams et al. (2003), Pheley et al. (2002), and Stuff et al. (2004).


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The research in this paper is funded through a grant from the US Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service through the University of Arizona, American Indian Studies Program. The views expressed in this paper are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the US Department of Agriculture. Previous versions of this paper were presented at the Annual Meetings of the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management, at the RIDGE Conference at the Economic Research Service, and in a seminar in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at the University of Arizona. The author wishes to thank participants at those venues for their comments. The author also wishes to thank Dawn Aldridge, Kenneth Finegold, Mark Nord, Dave Smallwood, Parke Wilde, and two anonymous referees of this journal for their comments and Katherine Burns and Brandie Ward for their research assistance.

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Correspondence to Craig Gundersen.

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Responsible editor: Junsen Zhang



Table 10 Questions on the core food security module and respective Rasch scores
Table 11 Summary statistics

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Gundersen, C. Measuring the extent, depth, and severity of food insecurity: an application to American Indians in the USA. J Popul Econ 21, 191–215 (2008).

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