Understand Food Insecurity

What is Food Insecurity?

In 2018, an estimated 1 in 9 Americans were food insecure, equating to over 37 million Americans, including more than 11 million children.[1]

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines food insecurity as a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life.[2] It is important to know that though hunger and food insecurity are closely related, they are distinct concepts. Hunger refers to a personal, physical sensation of discomfort, while food insecurity refers to a lack of available financial resources for food at the household level.

Extensive research reveals food insecurity is a complex problem. Many people do not have the resources to meet their basic needs, challenges which increase a family’s risk of food insecurity. Though food insecurity is closely related to poverty, not all people living below the poverty line experience food insecurity and people living above the poverty line can experience food insecurity.

Food insecurity does not exist in isolation, as low-income families are affected by multiple, overlapping issues like lack of affordable housing, social isolation, chronic or acute health problems, high medical costs, and low wages. Taken together, these issues are important social determinants of health, defined as the “conditions in the environments in which people are born, live, learn, work, play, worship and age that affect a wide range of health, functioning and quality-of-life outcomes and risks.[3]” Effective responses to food insecurity must address the overlapping challenges posed by the social determinants of health. Hunger + Health explores the impact of food insecurity as a social determinant of health and its effect on individual and population health outcomes.

 


Who does Food Insecurity Affect?

There is no single face of food insecurity, as it impacts every community in the United States. To learn more about child and overall food insecurity in your state, including congressional districts and county-level data, see the Map the Meal Gap study conducted by Feeding America®. For information about food insecurity among certain populations, visit the pages below:


Feeding America Real Story: Brittany


Ranges of Food Security

While households are often described as either food secure or food insecure, four levels of food security describe the range of households’ experiences in accessing enough food. Households with high food security and marginal food security make up the food secure category, and households with low food security and very low food security make up the food insecure category.


Sources

  1. Coleman-Jensen, A., et al. (2019). Household Food Security in the United States in 2018. U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service. Available online at: https://www.ers.usda.gov/webdocs/publications/94849/err-270.pdf?v=963.1

  2. US Department of Agriculture, (2019). Definitions of Food Security. Available online at: https://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/food-nutrition-assistance/food-security-in-the-us/definitions-of-food-security.aspx

  3. Healthy People 2020. Social Determinants of Health. Available online at: https://www.healthypeople.gov/2020/topics-objectives/topic/social-determinants-of-health

  4. US Department of Agriculture, (2019). Definitions of Food Security. Available online at: https://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/food-nutrition-assistance/food-security-in-the-us/definitions-of-food-security.aspx