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Written by:  Barbara O’Neill, Ph.D., CFP® and Martie Gillen, Ph.D., MBA, AFC®, CFLE 

Just over a quarter (25.8%) of U.S. service members are, or have been, food insecure according to recent research conducted by RAND for the U.S. Department of Defense. That’s 1 in 4! Survey findings indicated that about 15.4% of all active duty personnel would be classified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as having low food security and 10.4 % would be classified as having very low food security.

As noted in a previous post, low food security means that food quality (i.e., nutritional value) and variety are compromised without disrupting food quantity. With very low food security, both consistent access to food and eating patterns are disrupted. Food insecurity can occur whenever there is stress on household resources.

Personal Financial Managers (PFMs) often refer food insecure military families to government/community resources. However, the first step is to identify service members in need. Food insecurity may not always be visible. Therefore, even if it seems intrusive to talk about food insecurity, is important to start a conversation.

Fortunately, there is a validated, two-question screener for food insecurity called the Hunger Vital Sign™ that has been widely cited in peer-reviewed publications and is used in both research studies and clinical settings. There is no fee or license to use it as long as it is properly cited. Below is information about this measure of food insecurity, how to administer it, and how to interpret the results:

  • Starting the Conversation– Anytime PFMs meet with service members is a good time to gently probe about food insecurity. This could include informal hallway encounters and formal financial counseling sessions. For example, a casual conversation could segue from discussing inflation and high food prices at the grocery store to something like “Let’s talk a bit more about food. Can I ask you a few questions.”
  • The Two Questions- Respondents are asked to indicate if two statements are often true, sometimes true, or never true. The two statements are “Within the past 12 months, we worried whether our food would run out before we got money to buy more” and “Within the past 12 months, the food we bought just didn’t last and we didn’t have money to get more.” 
  • Interpreting the Results– If the answer to either screening question is “yes,” PFMs should connect military families to resources than enhance economic security. A good source of information is the Military OneSource Economic Security Toolkit which includes information about housing, food, financial well-being, expenses during PCS transitions, the Basic Needs Allowance, and more. If service members indicate “no” to both questions, tell them that resources exist to help them if food insecurity becomes an issue in the future.

For additional information, review this OneOp video.

Photo Credit: iStock/Prostock-Studio

Food Security in Focus

2023 MFRA logo wheat icon in front of a blue starTake advantage of OneOp’s Food Security in Focus collection, offering live and on-demand programming related to food security. 

Among our nation’s active-duty service members and their families, an estimated 24 percent are food insecure. Food insecurity adversely impacts racial/ethnic minority populations, lower-income populations, and rural and remote populations. Additionally, a rise in economic insecurity throughout the Covid-19 pandemic has contributed to increased food insecurity in vulnerable populations. Join OneOp as we focus on expanding food security for the military family and mobilizing family service professionals at federal, state, and local levels to work together on this issue.

Food Security in Focus