A disturbing new study reveals the scope of food insecurity within the military community. University of Georgia researchers say approximately one in eight military families with at least one child has relied on food banks, pantries, or other charitable food resources in the past year.
The study, which surveyed more than 8,325 families with active-duty service members in the U.S. Army or Air Force in spring 2021, sheds light on the challenges faced by military families, including issues of food insecurity. Researchers relied on data from the National Military Family Association, a nonprofit advocacy group dedicated to improving the lives of U.S. military families.
The study found that 13.2 percent of the surveyed military families reported using food distribution resources at least once in the past 12 months. Notably, the odds of utilizing a food pantry increased by 35 percent for each dependent child in the family. Researchers uncovered significant variations among different groups of military families.
Army families were 131 percent more likely to use a food bank than Air Force families, indicating disparities between the branches of the military. Additionally, lower-ranking service members were more likely to turn to food distribution resources compared to higher-ranking individuals. The study also found that Asian, Black, and multiracial families were approximately 50 percent more likely to use food distribution services than White families.
“If we look at the American population in general, about half of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck,” says study lead author Catherine O’Neal, an assistant professor in UGA’s College of Family and Consumer Sciences, in a university release. “So it’s not really all that surprising that what we’re seeing with the military reflects the broader population.”
Previous research has indicated that one in four military families faces some level of food insecurity, defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a lack of access to enough food for each person in a household to live a healthy life.
The study underscores a critical issue — a disconnect between the number of people who likely need assistance to feed their families and those who actually receive the necessary support.