Disrupting Food Insecurity

Tapping data for strategies that tackle the root causes

October 22, 2019

An estimated 40 million Americans—including 12.5 million children—struggle with food insecurity, meaning they can’t afford an adequate diet. Federal nutrition programs and charitable meals make up the first line of defense, but solving this challenge will require communities to go beyond food to disrupt the root causes of economic distress.

This dashboard equips counties with data about their food insecurity levels and related risk factors, identifies cross-cutting opportunities for intervention, and groups counties by shared challenges. Dive into your county’s data and explore strategies tailored to your county.

is in the peer group.

Peer Groups

“Peer groups” are based on counties’ food insecurity levels, related risk factors, and background characteristics.

Very high food insecurity, with multidimensional risks (mostly rural)
Very high food insecurity, with high housing costs
High food insecurity, with economic challenges (mostly rural)
High food insecurity, with the highest housing costs (mostly urban)
High food insecurity, with physical health challenges (rural)
Moderate food insecurity, with tenuous economic security
Moderate food insecurity, with moderate resilience (more rural)
Low food insecurity, with low housing costs (rural)
Low food insecurity, with high resilience
Low food insecurity, with high housing costs (mostly urban)
  • Food insecurity:
  • Physical health:
  • Financial and economic health:
  • Housing cost burden:
  • Geography:
  • Demographics:

is in the peer group.

Food Insecurity
Peer group average
State average
National average
Food insecure, all people
Food insecure, children

Food insecurity can have harmful effects on health and development at all ages. Not having an adequate diet can also hinder children’s ability to learn in school and adults’ capacity to work and be effective parents. The federal government funds several nutrition assistance programs, but the vast majority of counties include food-insecure families who are likely ineligible for benefits.

Physical Health
Peer group average
State average
National average
Low-birthweight births
People with diabetes
People with disability
No health insurance

Food insecurity is associated with poorer health outcomes at every stage of life, from pregnancy to childhood and adolescence to adulthood and older age. Food insecurity and poor nutrition can complicate the ability to manage illness—especially diet-related illnesses like diabetes—and can increase health care costs. And households dealing with illness and food insecurity may have to make trade-offs between food and medicine.

Housing Costs
Peer group average
State average
National average
Housing-cost burdened
Severely housing-cost burdened
Wage to afford fair market rent

Housing is a major expense for most low-income households, many of whom may face trade-offs between paying for food, housing, utilities, and transportation. Housing instability—such as trouble paying rent, doubling up, or moving frequently—is a risk factor for food insecurity. And once a family is evicted, food insecurity and other hardships may persist for years.

Income and Employment
Peer group average
State average
National average
Median household income
Unemployment rate
Below 200% of federal poverty level

Insufficient and unstable income and employment are significant drivers of food insecurity. Job loss, reduced work hours, and unexpected expenses such as medical bills can put stress on household budgets, leaving little to buy food.

Financial Health
Peer group average
State average
National average
Median credit score
Debt in collections

Poor financial health can be a warning sign of current and future food insecurity. Families with poor financial health may be unable to meet daily finances. They may also be vulnerable to economic shocks, such as a job loss or unexpected expense, because they don’t have a savings cushion or they have limited access to credit.

Peer group average
State average
National average
Households with children
Households with seniors (65+)
People of color
No college degree

Some populations, including many communities of color, have a greater risk of being food insecure. And some groups, such as children and seniors, are particularly vulnerable to the health and developmental setbacks that can come with not having an adequate diet.

Peer group average
State average
National average
Population in rural area

Although food insecurity exists in every county in the US, some regions and types of communities experience higher rates than others. Rural areas have higher rates of food insecurity overall. However, large metro areas with lower rates may have a larger number of food-insecure households. The South has the highest rates of food insecurity among regions. And counties with a majority of residents of color are more likely to have higher rates of food insecurity.

Examples of strategies to disrupt food insecurity in this peer group

Tackling the root causes of food insecurity requires communities to weave strategies for bolstering family food resources into broader efforts to address the causes and consequences of financial instability and economic hardship.

Continue reading about this peer group’s strategies.