Food insecurity is a persistent problem in the United States and is disproportionately distributed across racial/ethnic groups, with some evidence that non-Latino blacks and Latinos experience higher rates than non-Latino whites. But no nationally-representative study examines how race/ethnicity affects food insecurity for immigrants in the United States. Using new assimilation theory and the 1999–2010 waves (N = 32,464) of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), this study investigated the relationship between food insecurity and both race/ethnicity and nativity status. Results, when socioeconomic status is held constant, provide evidence for a nonwhite/white divide in food insecurity for both immigrants and the native-born. That is, blacks and Latinos – regardless of nativity status – are significantly more food insecure than both foreign- and native-born whites. These results provide insight into a continuing pattern of racial/ethnic inequality in the United States.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Individuals (and households) identified by the USDA as low or very low food security both have difficulty in acquiring food and experience reduced diet quality. Those classified as very low food security also report multiple instances when their food intake was reduced and normal eating patterns disrupted (Coleman-Jensen et al. 2016:4–5)
The panethnic Latino category cannot be disaggregated into ethnicities in the public-use NHANES data (NCHS 2013).
We shorten the label for racial/ethnic groups by dropping “non-Latino” for the rest of the paper.
The “other race” participants were combined into this single category by NHANES and cannot be disaggregated in the public-use data (National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) 2013).
We tested for and found evidence of violations of the proportional odds assumption in our ordered regression models. In supplementary analyses, we analyzed the NHANES measure of food insecurity with multinomial regression and created two dichotomous versions of the original four category food insecurity variable (full food security vs. the other categories; full/marginal food security vs. low/very low food security) that we analyzed with logistic regression. Results from these models provided evidence of the same pattern of results that we identified with the ordered logistic regression; therefore, we chose to continue with our original modeling strategy.
Practically, we used SAS Proc Surveymeans for our descriptive and Proc Surveylogistic for our analytical analyses. To properly adjust the data, we used the cluster (sdmvpsu), strata (sdmvstra), and weight (wtint4yr, wtint2yr) options (the appropriate NHANES variables are in parentheses). We used the formula in Table E in Johnson et al. (2013) to combine weights across survey cycles.
In supplemental analysis, we compared results generated both with and without multiple imputation and found similar results.
Acosta, Y. D., & La Cruz, G. P. (2011). The foreign born from Latin America and the Caribbean: 2010. American community survey reports. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Census Bureau.
Agresti, A., & Finlay, B. (2009). Statistical methods for the social sciences. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall.
Alaimo, K., Briefel, R. R., Frongillo, E. A., & Olson, C. M. (1998). Food insufficiency exists in the United States: results from the third National Health and examination survey (NHANES III). American Journal of Public Health, 88(3), 419–426.
Alaimo, K., Olson, C., & Frongillo, E. (2001). Food insufficiency and American school-aged children’s cognitive, academic, and psychosocial development. Pediatrics, 108(1), 44–53.
Alba, R. (1990). Ethnic identity: the transformation of white America. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Alba, R., & Nee, V. (2003). Remaking the American mainstream: assimilation and contemporary immigration. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Allen, T. W. (1994). The invention of the white race. New York: Verso.
Anderson, P. M., Butcher, K. F., Hoynes, H. W., & Schanzenbach, D. W. (2014). Beyond income: what else predicts very low food security among children? University of Kentucky Center for poverty research. Discussion paper series 2014-06.
Balistreri, K. (2012). Family structure, work patterns and time allocations: Potential mechanisms of food insecurity among children. University of Kentucky Center for poverty research. Discussion paper series 2012-07.
Bartfeld, J., & Dunifon, R. (2006). State-level predictors of food insecurity among households with children. Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, 25(4), 921–942.
Beaulac, J., Kristjansson, E., & Cummins, S. (2009). A systematic review of food deserts, 1966-2007. Preventing Chronic Disease, 6(3), 1–10.
Bhattacharya, J., Currie, J., & Haider, S. (2004). Poverty, food insecurity, and nutritional outcomes in children and adults. Journal of Health Economics, 23, 839–862.
Block, J. P., Schribner, R. A., & DeSalvo, K. B. (2004). Fast food, race/ethnicity, and income: a geographic analysis. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 27(3), 211–217.
Borjas, G. J. (2004). Food insecurity and public assistance. Journal of Public Economics, 88, 1421–1443.
Capps, R., Ku, L., Fix, M., Furgiuele, C., Passel, J., et al. (2002). How are immigrants faring after welfare reform? Preliminary evidence from Los Angeles and New York City. Discussion paper. Washington, D.C.: The Urban Institute.
Capps, R., Horowitz, A., Fortuny, K., Bronte-Tinkew, J., & Zaslow, M. (2009). Young children in immigrant families face higher risk of food insecurity. Bethesda: Child Trends.
Chilton, M., Black, M. M., Berkowitz, C., Casey, P. H., Cook, J., et al. (2009). Food insecurity and risk of poor health among US-born children of immigrants. American Journal of Public Health, 99(3), 556–562.
Chung, C., & Myers, S. L. (1999). Do the poor pay more for food? An analysis of grocery store availability and food price disparities. Journal of Consumer Affairs, 33(2), 276–296.
Coleman-Jensen, A., & Gregory, C. (2014). Food security in the U.S. – measurement. United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service. Retrieved http://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/food-nutrition-assistance/food-security-in-the-us/measurement.aspx. Accessed 19 Nov 2014.
Coleman-Jensen, A., Rabbitt, M. P., Gregory, C., & Singh, A. (2016). Household food security in the United States in 2015. Economic research report 215. United States Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service.
DePolt, R. A., Moffitt, R. A., & Ribar, D. C. (2009). Food stamps, temporary assistance for needy families and food hardships in three American cities. Pacific Economic Review, 14, 445–473.
Dharod, J. M., Croom, J. E., & Sady, C. G. (2013). Food insecurity: its relationship to dietary intake and body weight among Somali refugee women in the United States. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, 45(1), 47–53.
Dinour, L. M., Bergen, D., & Yeh, M.-C. (2007). The food insecurity-obesity paradox: a review of the literature and the role food stamps may play. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 107(11), 1952–1961.
Freeman, A. (2007). Fast food: oppression through poor nutrition. California Law Review, 95(6), 2221–2259.
Gambino, C. P., Trevelyan, E. N., & Fitzwater, J. T. (2014). The foreign-born population from Africa: 2008-2012. American community survey reports. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Census Bureau.
Gordon, M. (1964). Assimilation in American life. New York: Oxford University Press.
Gordon, C., Purciel-Hill, M., Ghai, N.R., Kaufman, L., Graham, R. & Van Wye, G. (2011). Measuring food deserts in New York City’s low income neighborhoods. Health and Place, 17(1), 696–700.
Gottleib, R., & Joshi, A. (2010). Food justice. Cambridge: MIT Press.
Gray, K. F., & Cunnynham, K. (2016). Trends in supplemental nutrition assistance program participation rates: Fiscal year 2010 to fiscal year 2014. Washington, D.C.: United States Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service.
Grieco, E. M. (2010). Race and Hispanic origin of the foreign-born population in the United States: 2007. American community survey reports. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Census Bureau.
Grier, S. A., & Kumanyika, S. K. (2008). The context for choice: Health implications of targeted food and beverage marketing to African Americans. American Journal of Public Health, 98(9), 1616–1629.
Gundersen, C. (2008). Measuring the extent, depth, and severity of food insecurity: An application to American Indians in the USA. Journal of Population Economics, 21(1), 191–215.
Gundersen, C. (2009). The consequences of food insecurity in the United States. In Food and nutrition at risk in America: food insecurity, biotechnology, food safety and bioterrorism (pp. 131–148). Boston: Jones and Bartlett Publishers.
Hadley, C., & Sellen, D. (2006). Food security and child hunger among recently resettled Liberian refugees and asylum seekers: a pilot study. Journal of Immigrant Health, 8, 369–375.
Hadley, C., Galea, S., Nandi, V., Nandi, A., Lopez, G., et al. (2008). Hunger and health among undocumented Mexican migrants in a U.S. urban area. Public Health Nutrition, 11(2), 151–158.
Hadley, C., Patil, C. L., & Nahayo, D. (2010). Difficulty in the food environment and the experience of food insecurity among refugees resettled in the United States. Ecology of Food and Nutrition, 49(5), 390–407.
Helling, A., & Sawicki, D. S. (2003). Race and residential accessibility to shopping and services. Housing Policy Debate, 14(1–2), 69–101.
Hernandez, D. C., & Pressler, E. (2013). Maternal union transitions and household food insecurity: differences by race and ethnicity. Journal of Family Issues, 34, 373–393.
Ignatiev, N. (1995). How the Irish became white. New York: Routledge.
Jacobson, M. F. (1998). Whiteness of a different color: European immigrants and the alchemy of race. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Jensen, H. H., & Zhylyevskyy, O. (2013). The effect of household financial, time and environmental constraints on very low food security among children. University of Kentucky Center for poverty research. Discussion paper series 2013-05.
Johnson, C. L., Paulose-Ram, R., Ogden, C. L., Carroll, M. D., Kruszan-Moran, D., et al. (2013). National health and nutrition examination survey: analytic guidelines 1999-2010. National center for health statistics. Vital and Health Statistics, 2(161), 1–18.
Kaiser, L. L., Melgar-Quiñonez, H. R., Lamp, C. L., Johns, M. C., Sutherlin, J. M., & Harwood, J. O. (2002). Food security and nutritional outcomes of preschool-age Mexican-American children. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 102(7), 924–929.
Kasper, J., Gupta, S. K., Tran, P., Cook, J. T., & Meyers, A. F. (2000). Hunger in legal immigrants in California, Texas and Illinois. American Journal of Public Health, 90(10), 1626–1633.
Kaufman, P. R., MacDonald, J. M., Lutz, S. M., & Smallwood, D. M. (1997). Do the poor pay more for food? Item selection and price differences affect low-income household food costs. Washington D.C., USA: Economic Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Economic Report No. 759.
Kimbro, R. T., Denney, J. T., & Panchang, S. (2012). Individual, family, and neighborhood characteristics and children's food insecurity. Journal of Applied Research on Children, 3(1), 1–29.
Koball, H., Liu, A.Y-H., Morgan, S. & Clary, L. (2013). Food insecurity and SNAP use among immigrant families with children during the economic downturn. Contractor and Cooperator Report No. 79. Princeton: Mathematica Policy Research.
Larson, N. L., & Story, M. T. (2011). Food insecurity and weight status among U.S. children and families: a review of the literature. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 40(2), 166–173.
Larson, N. L., Story, M. T., & Nelson, M. C. (2009). Neighborhood environments: disparities in access to healthy foods in the U.S. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 36(1), 74–81.
Leung, C. W., Williams, D. R., & Villamor, E. (2012). Very low food security predicts obesity predominantly in Hispanic men and women. Public Health Nutrition, 15(12), 2228–2236.
Long, J. S. (1997). Regression models for categorical and limited dependent variables. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.
Martin, K. S., Rogers, B. L., Cook, J. T., & Joseph, H. M. (2004). Social capital is associated with decreased risk of hunger. Social Science & Medicine, 58, 2645–2654.
Moore, L. V., & Diez-Roux, A. V. (2006). Associations of neighborhood characteristics with the location and type of food stores. American Journal of Public Health, 96(2), 325–331.
Morland, K., Wing, S., Roux, A. D., & Poole, C. (2002). Neighborhood characteristics associated with the location of food stores and food service places. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 22(1), 23–29.
Munger, A. L., Lloyd, T. D. S., Speirs, K. E., Riera, K. C., & Grutzmacher, S. K. (2014). More than just not enough: experiences of food insecurity for Latino immigrants. Journal of Immigrant and Minority, 17, 1548–1556.
National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) (2013). National Health and nutrition examination survey 2009–2010 data documentation, codebook and frequencies: food security. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nhanes/nhanes2009-2010/FSQ_F.htm. Accessed 10 Sept 2013.
Nord, M., & Golla, A. M. (2009). Does SNAP decrease food insecurity? Untangling the self-selection effect. United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service Report No. 85.
Nord, M. (2012). How much does the supplemental nutrition assistance program alleviate food insecurity? Evidence from recent programme leavers. Public Health Nutrition, 15(05), 811–817.
Nunnery, D. L., & Dharod, J. M. (2017). Potential determinants of food security among refugees in the U.S.: an examination of pre- and post- resettlement factors. Food Security, 9(1), 163–179. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12571-016-0637-z.
Olson, C. (1999). Nutrition and health outcomes associated with food insecurity and hunger. Journal of Nutrition, 129, 521S–524S.
Omi, M., & Winant, H. (1994). Racial formation in the United States: From the 1960s to the 1990s. New York: Routledge.
Pew Research Center (2012). The rise of Asian Americans. Pew research: social and demographic trends. Retrieved http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2012/06/19/the-rise-of-asian-americans. Accessed 22 Mar 2014.
Polivy, J. (1996). Psychological consequences of food restriction. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 96(6), 589–592.
Powell, L. M., Slater, S., Mirtcheva, D., Bao, Y., & Chaloupka, F. J. (2007). Food store availability and neighborhood characteristics in the United States. Preventative Medicine, 44, 189–195.
Quandt, S. A., Arcury, T. A., Early, J., Tapia, J., & Davis, J. D. (2004). Household food security among migrant and seasonal Latino farmworkers in North Carolina. Public Health Reports, 119, 568–576.
Quandt, S. A., Shoaf, J. I., Tapia, J., Hernandez-Pelletier, M., et al. (2006). Experiences of Latino immigrant families in North Carolina help explain elevated levels of food insecurity and hunger. The Journal of Nutrition, 136(1), 2638–2644.
Rabbitt, M.P., Smith, M.D. & Coleman-Jensen, A. (2016). Food security among Hispanic adults in the United States, 2011–2014. Economic research report 153. United States Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service.
Raja, S., Ma, C., & Yadav, P. (2008). Beyond food deserts: measuring and mapping racial disparities in neighborhood food environments. Journal of Planning Education and Research, 27, 469–482.
Ratcliffe, C., McKernan, S.-M., & Zhang, S. (2011). How much does the supplemental nutrition assistance program reduce food insecurity? American Journal of Agricultural Economics, 93(4), 1082–1098.
Rose, D. (1999). Economic determinants and dietary consequences of food insecurity in the United States. Journal of Nutrition, 129, 517S–520S.
Ryabov, I. (2016). Examining the role of residential segregation in explaining racial/ethnic gaps in spending on fruit and vegetables. Appetite, 98, 74–79.
Sano, Y., Garasky, S., Greder, K. A., Cook, C. C., & Browder, D. E. (2011). Understanding food security among Latino immigrant families in rural America. Journal of Family and Economic Issues, 32(1), 111–123.
Saul, N., & Curtis, A. (2013). The stop: how the fight for good food transformed a community and inspired a movement. Brooklyn: Melville House.
Schanzenbach, D. W., Anderson, P. M., Butcher, K. F., & Hoynes, H. W. (2014). New evidence on why children’s food security varies across households with similar incomes. University of Kentucky Center for Poverty Research. Discussion Paper Series 2014–08.
Schmidt, L., Shore-Shepphard, L., & Watson, T. (2016). The effect of safety net programs on food insecurity. Journal of Human Resources, 51(3), 589–614.
Seligman, H. K., Laraia, B. A., & Kushel, M. B. (2009). Food insecurity is associated with chronic disease among low-income NHANES participants. The Journal of Nutrition, 140(2), 304–310.
Townshend, M. S., Peerson, J., Love, B., Acterberg, C., & Murphy, S. P. (2001). Food insecurity is positively related to overweight in women. Journal of Nutrition, 131(6), 1738–1745.
Turney, K. (2014). Paternal incarceration and children’s food insecurity: a consideration of variation and mechanisms. University of Kentucky Center for Poverty Research. Discussion Paper Series 2014–12.
U.S. Census Bureau (2013). Asians fastest-growing race or ethnic group in 2012. Census Bureau Reports. U.S. Department of Commerce, CB13–112. Retrieved https://www.census.gov/newsroom/releases/archives/population/cb13-112.html. Accessed 22 Mar 2014.
U.S. Department of Agriculture (2015). Food security in the U.S., household food security: annual reports. Washington, D.C.: Economic Research Service. Retrieved http://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/food-nutrition-assistance/food-security-in-the-us/readings.aspx#reports. Accessed 4 June 2015.
U.S. Department of Agriculture (2017). Current population survey: food security supplement. Retrieved from https://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/food-security-in-the-united-states/.
United Nations General Assembly (1948). Universal declaration of human rights. Retrieved http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/. Accessed 8 Mar 2014.
Urbszat, D., Herman, C. P., & Polivy, J. (2002). Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we diet: effects of anticipated deprivation on food intake in restrained and unrestrained eaters. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 111(2), 396–401.
Van Hook, J., & Balistreri, K. S. (2006). Ineligible parents, eligible children: food stamp receipt, allotments, and food insecurity among children of immigrants. Social Science Research, 35, 228–251.
Ver Ploeg, M., Breneman, V., Farrigan, T., Hamrick, K., Hopkins, D., Kaufman, P. et al. (2009). Access to affordable and nutritious food – Measuring and understanding food deserts and their consequences: report to congress. AP-036, United States Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service.
Von Hippel, P. T. (2007). Regression with missing Y’s: an improved strategy for analyzing multiply imputed data. Sociological Methodology, 37(1), 83–117.
Walker, R. E., Keane, C. R., & Burke, J. G. (2010). Disparities and access to healthy food in the United States: a review of food deserts literature. Health and Place, 16(1), 876–884.
Wallace, S. & Cox, R. (2012). The impact of incarceration on good insecurity among households with children. University of Kentucky Center for Poverty Research. Discussion Paper Series 2014–14.
Waters, M. C. (1999). Black identities: West Indian immigrant dreams and American realities. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.
Wilde, P., & Peterman, J. (2006). Individual weight change is associated with household food insecurity status. Journal of Nutrition, 136(5), 1395–1400.
Yen, S. T., Andrews, M., Chen, Z., & Eastwood, D. B. (2008). Food stamp program participation and food insecurity: an instrumental variables approach. American Journal of Agricultural Economics, 90, 117–132.
Zenk, S. N., Schulz, A. J., Israel, B. A., James, S. A., Bao, S., & Wilson, M. L. (2005). Neighborhood racial composition, neighborhood poverty, and the spatial accessibility of supermarkets in metropolitan Detroit. American Journal of Public Health, 95(4), 660–667.
Ziliak, J. P., & Gunderson, C. (2012). Multigenerational families and food insecurity. University of Kentucky Center for Poverty Research. Discussion Paper Series 2012–13.
For helpful comments on a previous draft, we thank Christine Porter and Anna Zajacova.
Conflict of interest
The authors have no conflicts of interest.
About this article
Cite this article
Myers, A.M., Painter, M.A. Food insecurity in the United States of America: an examination of race/ethnicity and nativity. Food Sec. 9, 1419–1432 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12571-017-0733-8
- Food insecurity