Food Insecurity Is Under-Reported in Surveys That Ask About the Past Year



Food insecurity affects one-in-ten Americans in a typical year; recent USDA data show this food insecurity rate was stable from 2019 to 2021. However, data from Los Angeles County and other U.S. regions show that food insecurity spiked during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic. One reason for this discrepancy may be that food insecurity measures assess experiences over different time frames. This study investigated discrepancies in food insecurity rates by comparing past-week and past-year food insecurity measures, and explored the role of recall bias.


Data were obtained from a representative survey panel of Los Angeles adults (N=1135). Participants were surveyed about past-week food insecurity eleven times throughout 2021, and once about past-year food insecurity in December 2021. Data were analyzed in 2022.


Of the participants who reported past-week food insecurity at any time in 2021, only two-thirds also reported past-year food insecurity in December 2021, suggesting that one-third of participants under-reported past-year food insecurity. Logistic regression models indicated that three characteristics were significantly associated with under-reporting past-year food insecurity: having reported past-week food insecurity at fewer survey waves, not reporting recent past-week food insecurity, and having a relatively high household income.


These results suggest substantial under-reporting of past-year food insecurity, related to recall bias and social factors. Measuring food insecurity at multiple points throughout the year may help to improve the accuracy of reporting and public health surveillance of this issue.

The full study can be viewed at American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Livings, M. S., de Bruin, W. B., Wilson, J. P., Lee, B. Y., Xu, M., Frazzini, A., … & de la Haye, K. (2023). Food insecurity is under-reported in surveys that ask about the past year. American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

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