Data Spotlight: Food Insecurity in the District

November 15, 2023 by Gina Dwyer, MPH

In one week, nearly 79% of Americans will celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday with a meal, according to the Center for Food Demand Analysis & Sustainability at Purdue University (1). For many Americans, the holiday is synonymous with family (83%) and togetherness (74%), but this year inflation is also top of mind (2). To lessen the expense of the meal, consumers are finding new and creative ways to celebrate, such as hosting smaller, less formal gatherings and asking others to contribute (2).

Unfortunately, many families will not have access to the meals and gatherings that are enjoyed by so many of us. Nationally, this month food insecurity is estimated to be about 13% (1).  Locally, it is estimated at 9% in the District (3). This number is much higher in certain neighborhoods and among certain populations, however. In DC, 14% of children under 18 are food insecure (3). The 2022 Food Insecurity Index map (see below) shows how food insecurity varies widely across DC neighborhoods. This index score varies from 0 (no need) in the lightest shaded neighborhoods, to 98.1(greatest need) in the darkest shaded neighborhoods (3). These neighborhoods are mostly in wards 7 and 8, where the population is mostly Black and overall socioeconomic status is lower than the rest of the District (3).

How is CHAI addressing food insecurity?

Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA) and Community Health Improvement Plan (CHIP)

CHAI’s most recent CHNA used the Child Opportunity Index to identify neighborhoods with the lowest opportunity for children to thrive. One indicator of child opportunity is access to healthy food. We found that many neighborhoods in our primary service area do not have access to healthy food options, so we made increasing access a priority of the CHIP. In doing so, the CHAI established the Healthy Food Work Group.  This group aims to increase screenings for food insecurity among patients at Children’s National and to ultimately connect patients to partners in the community who can assist them in obtaining healthy food. The group also aims to increase access to healthy food options within the hospital. Additionally, with Thanksgiving fast approaching, they will volunteer at Bread for the City Holiday Helpings Program and the Safeway Feast of Sharing.  

There are many organizations around DC that are working to address food insecurity, but it remains a critical issue, particularly for children. Primary care physicians were reportedly the most trusted sources of food-related information among consumers, and we should use this position to further our partnerships with food assistance providers in the community.1 It is no easy feat, but something CHAI is committed to doing.  

Header photo by Shelley Pauls on Unsplash

About the author

Gina Dwyer, MPH

Lead Public Health Data Analyst for the Child Health Data Lab within the Child Health Advocacy Institute at Children's National Hospital