More families are chronically food insecure than they were 20 years ago, according to a new study.

The finding comes at a time when SNAP and similar benefits may decrease because of the expected end of the federal Public Health Emergency for COVID-19.

The survey study, published as a research letter in JAMA Pediatrics, compared rates of food insecurity—defined by the US Department of Agriculture as a lack of consistent access to enough food for every person in a household to live an active, healthy life—20 years apart.

Using data that follows the same families over time, lead author Noura Insolera found that the rate of families reporting chronic food insecurity between 2015 and 2019 more than doubled compared to families surveyed in 1999 to 2003.

“There are varying levels of being food insecure. These range from people being anxious about not having enough food, to the most severe, such as skipping meals or having their children skip meals, actually going without food,” says Insolera, a research investigator in the Survey Research Center at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research.

“It’s not just that there are more instances of having one wave of families saying they didn’t have enough to eat, but that it actually persists wave after wave.”

Previous research has shown that children who face food insecurity are more likely to have anxiety, depression, poorer diet quality, higher rates of diabetes and obesity, and lower academic performance, Insolera says.

Conversely, kids who had access to SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and WIC (Women, Children & Infants) benefits were four times more likely to be food secure as adults compared to kids who had no access to those benefits.

In the study, Insolera looked at families who were surveyed in the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, a longitudinal study that follows the same families over time. She drew data from three waves of surveys that families completed from 1999 to 2003, then again from 2015 to 2019.

Nearly half of the 12.1% of families that ever reported food insecurity from 1999 to 2003 experienced at least one additional wave of food insecurity. From 2015 to 2019, 4.5% of all families reported chronic food insecurity (reports of food insecurity in all three waves). This doubles the rate of families who reported chronic food insecurity in the previous time period. At that time, 2.1% of families reported food insecurity over all three waves.

Read the full article about chronic food insecurity by Morgan Sherburne at Futurity.