More than a quarter of U.S. troops have recently experienced food insecurity, according to a new report by the think tank RAND Corporation.
The report found that 25.8 percent of personnel across all military branches, except the Space Force, were food insecure in 2018. Among that group, 60 percent were active-duty.
“We were surprised at the estimate,” Dr. Beth Asch, a senior economist at RAND and the report’s lead author, told CNN. “I mean, that’s a lot of people.”
While there is no single definition of food security, according to the report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture defines it as “access by all people at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life.”
RAND’s new report on food insecurity was called for in the 2020 military budget bill. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin raised the issue in November 2021 when he announced “a new toolkit” to help military leaders identify struggling service members and connect them with resources and programs.
RAND interviewed troops at several military installations about food insecurity. Most said that food insecurity was a problem, but they disagreed on how big of a problem it was and what causes it.
“Service members aren’t living in poverty in the same way,” a representative of a military installation told RAND. “But … it’s also the dirty little secret: that there are service members with families and children making the salary of an E-4 who need help getting food on the table.”
Another installation representative said, “If you look at the cars that are on base, you know there are people who are overextending themselves. … The same thing that happens outside the gates of the base happens here, too.”
Asch, the lead author of the report, told CNN it’s unlikely that “one silver bullet” can solve the problem, and said more data is likely needed to fully understand it.
“I think that the estimate is high, and that is worthy of attention,” Asch said. “But I also think that one needs to recognize that before launching into a full-out assault on the problem, it needs to have a clear understanding of why this problem is happening.”