Understanding Hunger and Food Insecurity

Child staring pensively at food.

How do you measure hunger?

We all know what it’s like to feel hungry after skipping a meal. But how can you measure how hungry you are? Hunger is a feeling that can be different for everyone, but food insecurity actually measures the conditions that can lead to hunger.

What is food insecurity?

Food insecurity describes a household’s inability to provide enough food for every person to live an active, healthy life. Food insecurity is one way we can measure and assess the risk of hunger. In the United States currently, 1 in 8 people struggle with hunger.

What causes food insecurity?

One "bad month" can be enough to plunge a household into food insecurity. Lay-offs at work, unexpected car maintenance or an accident on the job can suddenly force a family to choose between buying food and paying bills. Working families across America face countless situations that can result in food insecurity and hunger.

That’s why many working families, including thousands of households who don’t qualify for federal nutrition assistance, depend on the Feeding America network of food banks to help make ends meet during difficult times. The Feeding America network serves nearly every community in the United States, helping more than 46 million people — including 12 million children and 7 million seniors.

What are the effects of food insecurity?

Food insecurity can have a wide impact, depending on each individual’s circumstances. Some of the most common, yet complex, effects of food insecurity include:

  • serious health complications, especially when people facing hunger are forced to choose between spending money on food and medicine or medical care;
  • damage to a child’s ability to learn and grow; and
  • difficult decisions for seniors — often living on fixed incomes — such as choosing between paying for food and critical healthcare.

Learn more about the unique challenges hunger poses for America’s diverse communities ›

How can we end food insecurity?

Part of what makes food insecurity so difficult to solve is that the underlying causes — poverty, unemployment/under-employment and inconsistent access to enough healthy food — are often deeply interconnected. Moving in and out of food insecurity simply adds more stress to a household that may already be wrestling with instability and unpredictability.

Feeding America is leading the fight to end hunger in America. In addition to feeding people who face hunger, we work to raise awareness about the issue, advocate for policies to protect people in need and conduct in-depth research to find solutions to hunger.

Get the facts on hunger and poverty ›

Is there food insecurity in my state?

Food insecurity affects every county in America. Map the Meal Gap enables you to take a deeper look at food insecurity across the country by giving county by county details. The study ties dollars to data — exposing everything from what people facing hunger spend on meals to what it would cost to close their food-budget shortfall.

Explore our interactive map to learn more about hunger in your community ›
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