Hunger and food insecurity

Food insecurity is when people can't access the food they need to live their fullest lives. There are many causes of food insecurity. But one thing is clear: financial security for everyone is the most effective way to end hunger.

A volunteer helping out at a food distribution location.

What is food insecurity

Food insecurity is an official term from the USDA. It's when people don't have enough to eat and don't know where their next meal will come from. It's a big problem in the United States, where over 44 million people, including 13 million children, experience food insecurity annually. However, many more people, including millions who do not meet the definition of food insecure—turn to the charitable food sector for support. Learn more about how Feeding America measures hunger in America.

A mom and her son holding food boxes and bags.

Causes of food insecurity

Food insecurity is a systemic issue that can happen to anyone, not a personal failure. According to our Elevating Voices Report, people facing hunger struggle with high living costs, expensive housing, unemployment, and low-wage jobs.

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Poverty and unemployment

People who don't have a lot of money can't afford to buy food regularly and may live in places where there aren't many stores that sell healthy food at a good price.

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Lack of affordable housing

Even if you're careful with your money and savings, paying for a place to live can be so expensive that it can be hard to have enough left over to buy food.

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Chronic health conditions

If someone has a long-term health issue, it can be harder for them to work and earn enough money. They may also have to spend a lot of money on medical bills.

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Racism and discrimination

Marginalized communities, including people of color, LGTBQ individuals, and those with disabilities, are at higher risk of food insecurity due to systemic discrimination and poverty.

Even people with a steady income and access to affordable housing can experience a temporary setback that leads to food insecurity, including job loss, medical emergency, natural disaster or family crisis.

Effects of food insecurity

Food insecurity, or the lack of access to enough nutritious food, can have serious consequences on people's health and well-being.

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Physical health

People who experience food insecurity are more likely to experience malnutrition and chronic conditions like heart disease and diabetes.

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Mental health

Food insecurity can also hurt people's mental health and result in depression, anxiety, and stress.

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Not meeting basic needs like food and shelter can lead to social isolation, stigma, and shame.

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School and work

Without enough food, people who experience food insecurity may have difficulty concentrating, have low energy, or miss school and work due to illness.

Discover how the Feeding America network addresses overall health and well-being, not just hunger.

A thriving economy solves hunger

Poverty, unemployment and low wages lead to food insecurity. It's why Feeding America helps people experiencing food insecurity get the food and resources they need by increasing access to food in their communities. We also work locally and nationally to expand economic opportunities. Get the facts on hunger and poverty.

A woman smiling in a farm.