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Surveys on food insecurity in the United States are failing to gather precise data concerning Latino families.

The U.S. federal government has administered the U.S. Household Food Security Survey Module for over 25 years, collecting data annually from around 50,000 households to estimate the extent of food insecurity nationally and at the state level. However, our research, featured in the October 2023 issue of the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, highlights discrepancies in how Latino parents respond to certain questions in the U.S. Department of Agriculture survey. Our study in California, New York, and Texas revealed that many survey responses did not align with the detailed experiences described in interviews. Participants found it easier to discuss how they coped with food insecurity than to respond directly to questions about frequency or worry regarding their ability to feed their families. We suggest improvements in question formulation to better capture accurate information about food insecurity among Latino families. For example, some respondents who claimed to never skip meals later described preparing significantly smaller meals, indicating potential underestimation of true food insecurity levels. The sensitive nature and limited response options of the questions, particularly those related to children’s food availability, made accurate answers challenging for some participants who felt the questions did not adequately reflect their situations.

Food insecurity in the United States rose from 10.2% in 2021 to 12.8% in 2022, as per official estimates, providing crucial information for government agencies, nonprofits, and researchers. The survey’s insights guide decisions on food assistance, nutrition policies, and programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). With the Latino population rapidly expanding and comprising about 19% of the U.S. population in 2022, it’s imperative to have accurate data for effective policymaking. Despite the high food insecurity rate of 13.2% among Latino families with children in 2022 (compared to 5.5% for white households), our research indicates the situation may be more severe. We are further delving into the coping strategies employed by Latino families during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, examining potential variations in responses based on urban sizes and exploring differences among various Latino heritages, such as Mexican Americans and Puerto Ricans, to enhance accuracy in food security data for Latino families with children.

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