Disrupting Food Insecurity
Tapping data for strategies that tackle the root causes
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.
Compared with other counties, those in this group have the following characteristics:
- Food insecurity:
- Physical health:
- Financial and economic health:
- Housing-cost burden:
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
The following are examples of strategies tailored to the needs, strengths, and challenges of this peer group. More strategies, as well as more detail about the steps below, can be found in the accompanying brief, “Disrupting Food Insecurity: Steps Communities Can Take.” We hope these strategies are a starting point for communities as they work to end food insecurity.