About Food Insecurity

The US has a great deal of food insecurity, which means that people live in households without consistent access to adequate food.

Millions of Americans continue to worry about the next meal: either because they cannot afford it or because food is not locally available. This article presents alarming facts:

  • Overall, food insecurity ranges from 4-36% by county.
  • Child insecurity ranges from 6-40% by county.
  • However, food insecurity is found everywhere. A county may have high average food security (e.g., Los Angeles County), but have population segments with high rates of food insecurity.
  • Food insecurity is often correlated with other negative indicators such as high unemployment, higher than average poverty rates, and/or lower than average home ownership.
  • In 2016, 25% of the people who were food insecure were unlikely to qualify for most federal nutrient programs.
  • USDA estimates that 41 million people are food insecure.
  • USDA estimates that 13 million children are food insecure.
  • One in eight individuals live in a US household without consistent access to adequate food.
  • One in six children live in a household without consistent access to adequate food.
  • Rural counties are 69% of all US counties but represent 79% of the counties with the highest rates of food insecurity.
  • 85% of counties with high child food insecurity are rural.
  • Rural Insecurity is especially concentrated in the Southern part of the US.
  • Two states that I particularly track are Oklahoma and California. Oklahoma has the 7th highest rate (22.7%) and California has the 20th highest rate (19%) of child food insecurity.
  • $3.00 is the national average meal cost. However, this cost varies across geographies. Some counties have lower average costs. Other counties, which tend to be found in metropolitan areas, have higher meal costs (e.g., average meal costs in Manhattan, New York County, are $5.70).
  • A food secure person is estimated to spend $273 on food per month.
  • There is an increase health issues such as diabetes, obesity, and disabilities in the most food insecure areas.

This article begs a few questions:

  • For example, these statistics were derived when the economy (assessed by traditional measures) is robust; however, what are the projections for food insecurity during an economic downturn?
  • What are the projections for food insecurity if California’s focus on water sustainability results in a decrease in supply or an increase in costs for domestically grown fresh fruits and vegetables?
  • The article is silent about the source of food. Is food security estimated solely on the ability to purchase food? In some areas of the country, particularly in rural areas, people produce their own food or barter for food. It is unclear whether this food source is considered.

Map the Meal, A Report on County and Congressional District Food Insecutiy and County Food Cost in the United States in 2016. Feeding America. https://www.feedingamerica.org/sites/default/files/research/map-the-meal-gap/2016/2016-map-the-meal-gap-all-modules.pdf