Food security - or lack of it - in the US

Think the situation Charlie's family in "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" where no one has quite enough to eat and the grandparents give up food so growing Charlie can have enough no longer exists in the US? Think again - research shows that nearly 15% of US households are "food insecure" meaning that they "had difficulty at some time during the year providing enough food for all their members due to a lack of resources." Worse, one-third of these households had very low food security, meaning that "the food intake of some household members was reduced and normal eating patterns were disrupted at times during the year due to limited resources." All this is according to a report, Household Food Security in the United States in 2011, produced by the Economic Research Service of the US Department of Agriculture.

The USDA Economic Research Service has recently developed a Food Access Research Atlas - a map showing census tracts of low income residents with low access to food. The screenshot above is part of the New York City metropolitan area. The green areas are low income census tracts where a significant proportion of residents is more than 1 mile (urban tracts) or 10 miles (rural tracts) from the nearest supermarket. The orange areas identify tracts where the proportion of residents is more than .5 mile from the nearest supermarket (still 10 miles for rural tracts.) I know, because the Atlas provides detailed data about each tract, including its character and how many residents have access to vehicles.

The atlas is a useful tool, though it could be a little easier for someone just beginning to learn about food security issues to use. What was your experience? Let me know in the comments. Do you agree that it's a great use of government data?

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