Food security requires that sustenance be available, nutritionally adequate, and acquired in socially acceptable manners
. Its converse, household food insecurity, is an economic and social condition characterized by reduced or unknown access to sufficient healthful and safe food or the limited ability to acquire fare in ways deemed appropriate by society. While most (85.1%) U.S. households were food secure during 2011, the remaining 14.9%, or 17.9 million, were food insecure
Households with low or very low food security are considered to be food insecure. Low food security, previously known as food insecurity without hunger, occurs when individuals experience a reduction in food quality, variety, or desirability, and at times a reduction in food intake. Of the 17.9 million food insecure households in the U.S., 9.2% experienced low food security while 5.7% had very low food security in 2011
. Very low food security, previously referred to as food insecurity with hunger, arises when at least one household member experiences “multiple indications of disrupted eating patterns and reduced food intake”
. In 2011, food insecurity at the child level was present in 10% of U.S. households with children under 18 years of age. Of households with food insecurity experienced by children, 9% had low food security among children and 1% of households had at least one child with very low food security
Ordinarily, household food security status is assessed by the Household Food Security Survey Module, including three questions that pertain to the household, seven for adults, and eight questions that determine food insecurity at the child level
[4–7]. One weakness of the 18-item Household Food Security Survey Module is that it identifies food insecurity at the aggregate level, and is not able to discern intra-household differences in food security among individual adults and children
. Furthermore, parent proxy reports of children’s food security may present an inaccurate or incomplete representation of actual experiences. Relying on guardian accounts is justified by two assumptions; first, the parent controls food resources in the home as well as how food insecurity, if present, is felt by all household members; second, individuals experience food insecurity equally as reported by the parent. However, these assumptions must be questioned, for while mothers may attempt to buffer children from the effects of household food insecurity
[9, 10], they may not always be fully able to protect children. It is difficult to say with certainty that all household members experience food insecurity in the same capacity, especially considering that mothers may not be fully aware of children’s experiences, resourcefulness, and actions taken to reduce the severity of food insecurity. As children who are food insecure often have poorer nutritional, educational, cognitive, developmental, and social outcomes compared to food secure children
[5, 11–15], measuring food insecurity in children, as reported by children, is an important next step in food security research.
There is a need to understand food insecurity from children’s perspectives and experiences
[16, 17]. In order to justify using child reports of food security status, researchers ascertained whether or not children could reliably report on their own experiences. Herjanic and colleagues compared mother and child reports of behavior, learning problems, psychiatric symptoms and mental status among children ages 6–16 years. With an overall 80% agreement in responses between parent and child, Herjanic et al. determined that children in this age group are capable of providing reliable information and showed that concordance is slightly improved in factual or observable information and lower in responses to questions of mental status or other internalized symptomology
. Herjanic and colleagues continued their analysis of parent–child agreement with a larger sample and found that mothers accurately reported behavioral symptoms while youth were better able to report their own subjective symptoms
Using a modified and non-validated child food security survey, Hadley and colleagues showed that Ethiopian children ages 13–17 years were able to attest to their own food security experiences
. Recent research by Fram and colleagues revealed children ages 9–16 years were capable of and willing to report their own food security experiences when interviewed separately from parents
. While Fram’s research demonstrated that children are cognizant of food insecurity and manage their own food resources, a validated measurement tool was not used. A further limitation of Fram’s study was that researchers were unable to compare adult and child reports as a parent did not respond to questions of household food security. Connell’s qualitative research assessed children’s understanding of household food insecurity, but queried participants about other social contacts, and did not directly ask about the experiences of each child participant. Research by Connell and colleagues identified quantity, quality, psychological, and social components of children’s perceptions of household food insecurity, yet further research is needed in order to better understand food insecurity at the child level
Comparing multiple accounts of food security status within a single household, even while using validated and reliable modules, might result in differential reporting between mother and child. In order to better comprehend instances of differential reporting, researchers can compare scores from two scales for concordance, known as informant agreement. Previous studies investigating the relationship between self-report and reports by others concluded that discrepancies were issues of measurement error or some flaw in study design
. Yet, when researchers kept methods constant for all participants and when measurement tools were shown to have good reliability, the discrepancy in reports remained high
[23–25]. Therefore, discordance is not due exclusively to poor methodology, but rather that children’s experiences and perceptions may differ from those of adults.
It is important to note that the 18-item Household Food Security Survey Module ascribes a categorization of food security for all household members, and does not assign food security status to individuals within the household. In the present study, mothers report food security at the level of the household, while children, using the 9-item Food Security Survey Module for Youth, detail his or her own food security experiences and perceptions. The current research addresses a critical gap in the literature and aims to understand complexities of intra-household differences in food security. A disjuncture in mother and child food security status will prompt researchers to examine the underlying factors associated with this difference, including buffering, different food allocations for household members, cultural factors, or some other yet unrecognized association. The primary research question for the current study is as follows: How do intra-household mother and child reports of food security differ according to questions of the 18-item Household Food Security Survey Module and the 9-item Food Security Survey Module for Youth? Secondarily, using the eight child-referenced items of the Household Food Security Survey Module, how does mother-reported child food security contrast child-reports of food security when children report using the Food Security Survey Module for Youth?