Hunger and Food Insecurity

Those words seem the same. But it may surprise you to learn that hunger and food insecurity mean different things.

Hunger is the feeling someone has when they don't have food.

Food insecurity is the consistent lack of food to have a healthy life because of your economic situation.

Feeding America is working to end hunger by addressing food insecurity.

A definition of food insecurity

The USDA defines food insecurity as a lack of consistent access to enough food for every person in a household to live an active, healthy life. This can be a temporary situation for a family or can last a long time. Food insecurity is one way we measure how many people can't afford food.

More than 34 million people, including 9 million children experience food insecurity in the United States.


Causes of food insecurity

Unfortunately, many people in America struggle to meet their basic needs, which increases their risk of food insecurity. For example, lay-offs at work, unexpected car maintenance, or an accident can suddenly force a family to choose between buying food and paying bills.

The causes of food insecurity are complex. Some of the causes of food insecurity include:

  • Poverty, unemployment, or low income
  • Lack of affordable housing
  • Chronic health conditions or lack of access to healthcare
  • Systemic racism and racial discrimination


Effects of food insecurity

Food insecurity can have a wide impact, depending on someone's circumstances. Here are just some examples of the effects of food insecurity:

  • Food insecurity can cause serious health issues when people have to choose between spending money on food and medicine or healthcare
  • Food insecurity can make it more difficult for a child to learn and grow
  • Food insecurity can lead to difficult decisions like choosing between food and rent, bills, and transportation

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



Ending 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 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 helping provide meals to 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 ›
Learn more about hunger in your state: