From Children’s HealthWatch: From Disparities to Discrimination

Racism and discrimination are root causes of poverty and inequity in the U.S. New research from Children’s HealthWatch, From Disparities to Discrimination: Getting to the Roots of Food Insecurity in America, adds to a growing body of research on the impact of racism by examining the link between experiences of discrimination and food insecurity.

Children’s HealthWatch data from 669 families with young children at the
Philadelphia Children’s HealthWatch site interviewed between 2015 and 2017 show significant associations between reported caregivers’ experiences of discrimination based on racial or ethnic identity and food insecurity status. This emerging research is set within the context of research over the past 20 years on the ongoing racial and ethnic disparities identified in national data, as well as the full Children’s HealthWatch dataset of families in five cities across the country.

Since 1995, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has consistently reported higher annual rates of food insecurity among Black and Latinx households compared to the national average among all households. The most recent national data from 2017 show 21.8 percent of Black households and 18 percent of Latinx households reported food insecurity, while the national food insecurity rate was 11.8 percent.37

Within the Children’s HealthWatch data from all five research sites, racial and ethnic disparities among immigrant families, in particular, are striking. For example, among a full Children’s HealthWatch sample of more than 60,000 caregivers with infants and toddlers under age 4 interviewed between 1998 and 2018, Black and Latinx caregivers born outside of the U.S. were two to three times more likely to report food insecurity, compared to White caregivers born outside of the U.S., even after controlling for confounders.

The new report provides strong evidence from the Philadelphia site of Children’s HealthWatch. In 2015, the research team added a measure of experiences of discrimination to the standard Children’s HealthWatch interview. This validated screening tool asked participants how many times, if at all, they experienced a form of discrimination due to race, ethnicity, or color, including being prevented from doing something, being hassled, or being made to feel inferior in a variety of situations, such as in school, at work, or while receiving medical care.38

Nearly half of the 669 Philadelphia caregivers interviewed reported they
experienced discrimination in their lifetime. In turn, these experiences of discrimination were strongly associated with household and child food insecurity. Caregivers who reported one or more experiences of discrimination in any setting were more likely to report food insecurity compared to those who did not experience discrimination. Further, the report documents the associations between food insecurity and
experiences of discrimination by setting. For example, caregivers who reported experiences of discrimination by police, in court, at work, in a store, or at school also reported significantly higher rates of food insecurity, often more than 10 percentage points higher, compared to those who never experienced discrimination in those settings.
In light of evidence on the health and economic impacts of racism and discrimination embedded within our systems and institutions, this research helps confirm a link between discrimination and food insecurity. Policy recommendations that seek to address racism and discrimination in our systems of education, employment, housing, medical care, and policing, and within ourselves, are critical to dismantling racism and reducing food insecurity in the U.S.