The Look in Brief

Vanderbilt policy center finds food insecurity persists in Tennessee’s children

By: - February 3, 2022 6:00 am
Throughout the pandemic, families have turned to food banks for help. In this picture, food is distributed in North Nashville in fall 2020. (Photo by John Partipilo

Throughout the pandemic, families have turned to food banks for help. In this picture, food is distributed in North Nashville in fall 2020. (Photo by John Partipilo

The Vanderbilt Center for Child Health Policy released its annual survey on child health in Tennessee and found one in three families experienced food insecurity in 2021, with nearly half of families receiving support from a food assistance program.

The poll surveyed 1,000 parents across the state. 

By region, 48% of east Tennesseans reported that they used a food assistance program, compared to 40% of Middle Tennessee and 46% of West Tennessee. 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines food insecurity as “a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life” and a lack of financial resources for food at the family level.

The survey results also evaluated how food insecurity affects families of color.

Half of Black families responding reported the use of a food assistance program, compared to 41% of white families.  About 41% of Black families reported experiencing food insecurity, in comparison to 29% of white families, and 26% of Black families used free or reduced school meals, compared  to 24% of white families.

Families have access to several state and local programs created to assist with food insecurity, including the Pandemic-EBT, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, school meals, and food stamps. 

The Child Tax Credit program, which began giving parents with children a monthly payment in 2021, reported that families spent a good share on food, said Center for Child Health Policy Director Stephen Patrick.

Of those surveyed, 22% received food stamps, 10% received funds from the Women, Infant, and Children Program (WIC) and 6% received food from their kids’ school.

Another 8% of families reported receiving food from food banks, pantries and other charitable organizations, but given that survey results haven’t changed much in the past two years, said Patrick, this goes to show that food insecurity continues to affect families. 

“We’re not doing enough. More needs to be done,” he said.  

A bill headed to the Tennessee General Assembly seeks to provide some relief for families by making school breakfast and lunch free for students by reimbursing the cost of the meal.

Of the families surveyed, 90% supported free school meals.

If any issue can remain without political divide, said Patrick, it’s food insecurity, considering children cannot learn on an empty stomach. 

“It appears from our polling that parents agree this is an issue and are supportive of solutions. It’s not a terribly divisive issue,” he said. 


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Dulce Torres Guzman
Dulce Torres Guzman

Dulce has written for the Nashville Scene and Crucero News. A graduate of Middle Tennessee State University, she received the John Seigenthaler Award for Outstanding Graduate in Print Journalism in 2016. Torres Guzman is a member of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. She enjoys the outdoors and is passionate about preserving the environment and environmental issues.