New Research on Child Hunger in Rural America

Economic instability and lack of jobs cited as underlying factors in series of in-depth interviews.

February 17, 2020

According to a new study commissioned by No Kid Hungry and Feeding America, economic instability, lack of job opportunities and geographic isolation are primary contributors to the threat of child hunger in rural communities.

 A team of researchers from six universities, led by Dr. Lindsey Haynes-Maslow of North Carolina State University, conducted 153 in-depth interviews with a diverse range of parents and caregivers living in rural counties in Arkansas, Montana, North Carolina, Oregon, Texas and West Virginia. The researchers talked to low-income families about the specific challenges they face making ends meet in rural America. They also talked about the nutrition programs parents rely on to help feed their children, including federal nutrition programs like SNAP, WIC, school breakfast, afterschool meals and free community meals served in the summer, along with charitable food distributions from food banks and food pantries throughout the year.

“Families in rural areas are really struggling to find work,” said Karen Wong, No Kid Hungry senior manager of research and evaluation. “The lack of decent jobs is one of the main reasons why some rural families have trouble making sure their children get enough healthy food.”

Nationally, 1 in 7 children face food insecurity. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, poverty rates are higher in rural America, with the rural poverty rate at 16.4% compared with 12.9% in urban areas. And 84% of U.S. counties with the highest percentage of food-insecure children are rural.

“Families in this study spoke about their challenges in getting food on the table even with the supports provided by nutrition programs,” said Emily Engelhard, managing director of thought leadership at Feeding America. “The recent proposed changes to SNAP rules will only make things harder; adding time limits to SNAP due to work reporting requirements will be especially damaging in rural communities due to the already low availability of jobs, and eradicating categorical eligibility will leave hundreds of thousands of kids without the free school meals they depend on.”

Building upon the current study's findings, No Kid Hungry and Feeding America provide recommendations for addressing child hunger in rural communities: 

  • Make breakfast part of the school day through “breakfast after the bell” programs. 
  • Improve summer meals by making federal requirements more flexible to give community programs more ways to serve children in far-flung rural areas.
  • Offer culturally appropriate foods both in school meals programs and charitable food assistance programs.
  • Offer more fresh and healthy food options in charitable food assistance programs, which is important to low-income, rural caregivers.
  • Conduct more research to better understand how to solve the problems of food insecurity and poverty in rural communities.


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About Feeding America

Feeding America® is the largest hunger-relief organization in the United States. Through a network of 200 food banks and 60,000 food pantries and meal programs, we provide meals to more than 40 million people each year. Feeding America also supports programs that prevent food waste and improve food security among the people we serve; educates the public about the problem of hunger; and advocates for legislation that protects people from going hungry. Visit, find us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.

About No Kid Hungry

No child should go hungry in America. But 1 in 7 kids will face hunger this year. No Kid Hungry is ending childhood hunger through effective programs that provide kids with the food they need. This is a problem we know how to solve. No Kid Hungry is a campaign of Share Our Strength, an organization working to end hunger and poverty. Join us at