About one in eight military families are turning to food banks and community pantries to make ends meet and feed their children, a new study finds.

More than 13% of military families with at least one child said they used a food bank at least once in the past 12 months, according to a 2021 survey of more than 8,300 families with an active service member in the U.S. Army or Air Force.

The odds of using a food pantry increased by 35% for each dependent child in the family, the results showed.

“If we look at the American population in general, about half of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck,” said lead researcher Catherine O’Neal, an assistant professor in the University of Georgia’s College of Family and Consumer Sciences. “So, it’s not really all that surprising that what we’re seeing with the military reflects the broader population.”

Army families were 131% more likely to use a food bank than Air Force families, and lower-ranking service members were more likely to need a food bank than those of higher rank, researchers found.

Asian, Black and multiracial families were about 50% more likely to use a food bank than White families.

Previous research has shown that about one in four military families experience some level of food insecurity.

Given this, researchers suspect more military families might need food banks than the survey shows.

“Stigma is a common suspect for why people don’t utilize the resources available to military families,” O’Neal said. “There’s this idea that they will be perceived as somehow less than or not capable.”

“Alleviating the stigma connected to using food resources and making sure people are connected to their communities and know what resources are available to them are key to helping solve this problem,” O’Neal added.

Two-income families were 27% less likely to need a food bank than those relying on a single income, researchers found.

But it can be difficult for a non-military spouse to hold down a job when the family might be required to move every couple of years.

And while military families receive an allowance for housing, some find it isn’t enough to cover the rent or mortgage in more expensive cities, researchers said.

The new study was published recently in the journal Public Health Nutrition.

“Military families are first and foremost families,” O’Neal said. “No one is immune to the potential of financial stress. Any efforts to address food insecurity will have to be a multi-pronged initiative that address the many contributing factors.”

More information

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has more about food insecurity in the United States.

SOURCE: University of Georgia, news release, Nov. 10, 2023