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Assessing Food Security

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Strengthening the food security of service members and their families is a complex challenge, requiring every level of the Defense Department to work together.

As a military leader, you are in a unique position to identify and support those who may be at risk for or who are experiencing food insecurity.

Know the risk factors

The risk of food insecurity increases whenever household resources, like time or money, become limited.

Factors that put a service member or family at a higher risk of food insecurity include:

  • Lower rank (in particular, junior and mid-level enlisted)
  • Large families or those with multiple dependents
  • Spouse unemployment
  • Lack of child care
  • Recent PCS
  • Lack of easy access to a dining facility or galley (e.g., installations with no dining facilities/galleys)
  • Experiencing financial strain or worsening financial conditions

Survey your team

The Defense Organizational Climate Pulse survey measures the climate of your organization and is one tool you can use to gauge food security. The survey is customizable, allowing you to measure topics relevant to your unit or organization.

To create a DOCP survey that includes food security questions, leaders must include the following questions from the question bank:

  • Within the past 12 months, how often have you/your household worried whether your food would run out before you got money to buy more?
  • Within the past 12 months, how often have you/your household not been able to afford to eat balanced meals?

Talk with your service members

When talking to a service member about food security, acknowledge that the conversation can be a difficult one. Approach the topic with an attitude of understanding and a desire to help. Ask clear and concise questions that will yield information.

Here is a sample script:

“When someone on my team is having a tough time, I want to take action to help that person. Not having enough food or the type of food you need to do your mission, is one of those tough times when it’s my duty to step in and provide support.

To help me better understand your situation and make sure I’m providing you the best support I can, I have two quick questions to ask you. You do not have to answer them, but again, I am asking these so I can ensure you’re getting the support you need.

A. Within the past 12 months, I/we worried whether our food would run out before I/we got money to buy more. For you/your family, was this “often true,” “sometimes true” or “never true?”

B. Within the past 12 months, the food we bought just didn’t last and we didn’t have money to get more. For you/your family, was this “often true,” “sometimes true” or “never true?”

Thank you for helping me better understand your situation. I very much appreciate your honesty and openness.”

The two questions above are the Hunger Vital Sign measure. If the service member answers “often true” or “sometimes true” to either question, they are considered at risk of food insecurity. Refer that person to resources that can help.

Assess your nutrition environment

The military nutrition environment includes all food and drink options and dietary supplements available within military settings. As a key part of Total Force Fitness, the MNE impacts performance and mission readiness.

Food insecurity may arise when the MNE is not conducive to healthy eating or when health-promoting foods and beverages are not easily accessible or available to all service members or their families.

To assess the MNE of your unit, installation or area of responsibility, leverage the MNE assessment resources developed by the Consortium for Health and Military Performance at the Uniformed Services University.

Additionally, the Military Nutrition Environment Assessment Tool provides an objective way to assess your local MNE. If you’re interested in learning more about the mNEAT app, contact CHAMP’s MNE Team at

Identifying food insecurity among those you lead and connecting those at-risk to available resources and support is crucial to ensuring the health and well-being of service members and their families.

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