The Center for Hunger-Free Communities

Solutions Based on Science and the Human Experience

Philly Hardship Data

Since 2005, the Children's  HealthWatch team completed interviews with over 5,000 caregivers of young children under the age of three at St. Christopher's Hospital for Children in North Philadelphia.  In this section, we provide a breakdown of the demographic, food insecurity and other hardship data that the Children's HealthWatch team collected in Philadelphia through December 2010. 

 

Household Food Insecurity

The USDA defines food insecurity as the lack of consistent access to sufficient healthy food for all family members to enjoy active, healthy lives.  In 2009, 50.2 million people, including 17.2 million children lived in U.S. households that were food insecure. This represents nearly 15% of all households and more than 23% of all children in the country. Nearly 26% (or 9.6 million) very young children (under age 6) lived in households experiencing food insecurity in 2009. 

Children's HealthWatch research has shown that young children who live in households experiencing food insecurity are more likely to:

  • Be in poor or fair health
  • Experience problems with cognitive development
  • Exhibit behavioral and emotional problems

We measured household food insecurity using the 18-question USDA Food Security Scale.  Based on an adult's answers to this survey, households are categorized as having:

  • HH food security - answering 'yes' to 2 or less questions
  • HH low food security - answering 'yes' to 3-5 questions
  • HH very low food security - answering 'yes' to 6 or more questions

For more information about the impact of food insecurity, see these recent Children's HealthWatch publications:

Household food insecurity

 

Food Insecurity Among Children

Food insecurity among children occurs when the children (0 to 18 years old) who live in a household are not getting enough food to live a healthy, active lifestyle.  Child food security is especially important because it not only affects the children's current health, but also their lifelong well-being and development.

It is measured using the responses of an adult caregiver in the household to a subset of 8 items from the 18-item USDA Food Security Scale.  Based on an adult's answers to this survey, households are categorized as having:

  • Food security among children - answering 'yes' to 0 or 1 question
  • Low food security among children - answering 'yes' to 2-4 questions
  • Very low food security among children - answering 'yes' to 5 or more questions

For more information about the impact of child food insecurity, see these recent Children's HealthWatch publications:

food Insecurity Among Children

 

Energy Insecurity  

Energy insecurity occurs when families lack consistent access to sufficient home heating or electricity to ensure healthy and safe conditions in the home. Based on caregivers' answers to a series of 4 questions, their household was classified as having:

  • No energy problems
  • Moderate energy insecurity which occurs when the utility company has sent a letter threatening to shut off services in the past 12 months.
  • Severe energy insecurity which occurs when the utility company has shut off services, when a family's home has been unheated or uncooled for at least one day, or when the family has used a cooking stove to heat the house in the past 12 months.

Young children who live in households experiencing energy insecurity are more likely to:

  • Be in poor or fair health
  • Have been hospitalized since birth
  • Be at risk for developmental delays
  • Experience food insecurity
  • Have moved two or more times in the past year

For more information about the impact of energy insecurity, see these recent Children's HealthWatch publications:

Energy Insecurity

 

Housing Insecurity  

Housing insecurity occurs when families move frequently, crowd into living spaces that are too small, or double up with another family for financial reasons. Based on caregivers' answers to a series of questions, their household was classified as having:

  • Stable housing
  • Moderate housing insecurity which is when there are more than 2 people per bedroom in the house or when the family is living with others because they are having financial difficulties.
  • Severe housing insecurity which is when a family has moved more than once in the past year.

Nearly 40% of families that the Children's HealthWatch team interviewed in Philadelphia experienced some form of housing insecurity. Children's HealthWatch research has shown that children living in a crowded home are more likely to live in households experiencing food insecurity. Children living in families who have moved multiple times in the past year are more likely to:

  • Be in fair or poor health
  • Be at risk for developmental delay
  • Have lower weight-for-age

Housing Insecurity

 

Behind on Rent

Families living in Philadelphia struggle with many financial burdens related to finding stable housing including paying their rent (Behind Closed Doors, 2011). Children's HealthWatch research has found that children living in households that were behind on rent in the past year are more likely to:

  • Be in fair or poor health
  • Experience food insecurity
  • Be at risk for developmental delays
  • Be significantly below average in height relative to those who are stably housed

For more information about the impact of housing insecurity, see these recent Children's HealthWatch publications:

Behind on Rent

 

Cumulative Hardship

Often times, it seems as though low-income families with young children experience a continuous cycle of hardships (i.e., food insecurity, energy insecurity, and housing insecurity). Providing basic necessities like enough healthy food, heat, lighting and stable housing can be extremely difficult and result in the need to make tough choices about which bills to pay. For many low-income families, hardships are rarely experienced in isolation. Families constantly need to make trade-offs to stay within their budget. As a result, child health and well-being suffer. Children's Health Watch research has found that children living in families who experience multiple hardships are more likely to be at risk for developmental delay and less likely to be classified as well.

Cumulative hardship is comprised of three components:

  1. Food insecurity
  2. Energy insecurity
  3. Housing insecurity

Families are assigned a score of 0, 1, or 2 for each component.

  • Families who do not experience any hardship receive a score of 0.
  • Families who experience moderate insecurity receive a score of 1.
  • Families who experience severe insecurity receive a score of 2.

For more information about the impact of cumulative hardship, see these recent Children's HealthWatch publications:

For families interviewed in Philadelphia through December 2010, the majority of families experience at least a moderate level of cumulative hardship.
cumulative hardship

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ethnicity of Caregivers

Hunger and poverty affects everyone regardless of any demographic characteristics. The Children's HealthWatch team interviews a racially diverse population in the emergency department at St. Christopher's Hospital for Children. 

Race/Ethinicity of Caregivers

 

(March 2012)

Often times, low-income families with young children under the age of 4 experience a continuous cycle of hardships (i.e., food insecurity, energy insecurity, and housing insecurity). These experiences have negative consequences on the developing bodies and brains of young children.

 

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