How we measure hunger in America

19-year-old Daniel helps out at a food pantry in Houma, LA after Hurricane Ida.
September 16, 2021
by Ash Slupski

Hunger. Food insecurity. Charitable food participation. What do these all mean?

There are many different numbers about how the pandemic affected people's ability to keep food on the table. It isn't easy to know what these numbers mean and why they matter.

Below, we break down how hunger in America has changed since March 2020.

How many people visit food banks?

In 2020, at least 60 million people in the United States turned to food banks, food pantries, and other community food programs for help feeding themselves and their families. That's 1 in every 5 people.

How we got the number:

Since the pandemic began, the Feeding America network worked hard to feed as many people as possible. Last year, we distributed more than six billion meals. In addition, millions of our neighbors visited member food banks for the very first time.

But we know not everyone who gets help with food visits a food bank in the Feeding America network. So, we worked with the Urban Institute, the US Census Bureau, and the US Bureau of Labor Statistics to ask if people visited any free food program in the last 12 months. Those responses reported that an estimated 60 million people received food assistance from food charities.

How many people face hunger?

More than 38 million people—or 1 in 8—lived in food-insecure households in 2020. Food insecurity is the consistent lack of access to enough food to lead a healthy and active life.

How we got the number:

Every year, the USDA surveys households in America to determine the national rate of food insecurity. The survey asked families how often they skipped meals to make food last longer or chose less nutritious food options because they were more affordable. Unfortunately, many of our neighbors facing hunger make these choices to stretch their food budget. According to the most recent USDA report, 38 million people – including 12 million children - in the United States face hunger.

Why are these numbers different?

It may be confusing that the number of people visiting food banks and those facing hunger doesn't match. But there's a simple explanation for the difference.

Together with our generous supporters, the Feeding America network responded to the hunger crisis during the pandemic and successfully decreased the number of households considered food insecure:

What can we do about these numbers?

We are at a pivotal moment. We proved that when our country works together, we can make real progress in decreasing food insecurity.

Unfortunately, many of the successful responses to hunger during the pandemic are temporary. Therefore, long-term support is critical to ending hunger. Here are three ways you can help:

With your help, we can continue to be there for our neighbors facing hunger so that one day soon, we can end hunger in America.