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Food Insecurity

What is Food Insecurity?

Food insecurity is defined as a consistent lack of access to enough food to live a healthy life.


Food insecurity refers specifically to a lack of funds to provide enough food for a household, be it a single-person home or a large family.


Though food insecurity and hunger are closely related, hunger is a sensation while food insecurity is a situation.


Key Takeaways

  • Food insecurity can happen to anyone.

  • There are levels of food insecurity.

  • Food insecurity has many causes.


Understanding Food Insecurity

As of 2020, it is estimated that 1 in 8 Americans are food insecure, according to the U.S, Department of Agriculture. This estimate equals over 38 million people 12 million of which are children.


Every community in the United States is affected by food insecurity. Those who are more vulnerable are more at risk, such as children, the elderly, rural communities, and racial minorities.


While households are often categorized as either food secure or food insecure, food security can be broken into a four tier range.

  • High Food Security describes those with no difficulty consistently accessing adequate food.

  • Marginal Food Security describes those who occasionally have trouble or anxiety about accessing adequate food, but the quality, variety, and quantity of their food was not substantially reduced.

  • Low Food Security describes those who must reduce the quality and variety of foods they intake but are able to eat enough to sustain themselves.

  • Very Low Food Security describes those who’s food intake was interrupted or reduced multiple times a year.


Food insecurity is a complicated issue. Though it is strongly linked to poverty, not all those who live below the poverty line are food insecure, while some above it may be. It may also be a short term situation, such as a gap between jobs, or a long term one, such as generational poverty.


Contributing Factors to Food Insecurity

Contributing factors to food insecurity include but are not limited to, low wages, lack of affordable housing, lack of a support system, lack of transportation, food deserts, economic and social disadvantages resulting from structural racism, disability and health issues, and high medical costs.


There are food assistance programs that aim to assist food insecure households. These include the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). While studies show that these programs provide nutrition to those suffering from food insecurity, they do not address the root causes of food insecurity and recipients of these benefits are still food insecure.


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