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Public Repository to Engage Community and Enhance Design Equity

Food Insecurity


According to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), food insecurity is limited or uncertain access to nutritionally adequate food that prevents individuals from leading healthy lives. Food insecurity can be temporary or long-term, and can be influenced by income, employment, and disability. Limited access to supermarkets, supercenters, grocery stores, or other sources of healthy and affordable food makes it more difficult for people to follow a healthy diet.

Context/Impact on Health

Access to healthy food sources is imperative to good health. Food insecurity can increase individuals’ risk for poor nutrition and chronic diseases, including obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Food-insecure adults and children also have higher rates of mental health issues. Food-insecure children are also at higher risk for physical, developmental, and cognitive impairments compared to their peers.

Data Collection Methodology

The USDA Food Access Research Atlas characterizes census tracks as having low access to healthy food by determining if a significant number (at least 500) and/or share (at least 33%) of people living in a urban census tract reside more than a half-mile or in a rural census tract, more than 10 miles, away from a supermarket, supercenter, or large grocery store in urban areas,. It is estimated that 18.8 million people in the US reside in a census tract with more than 33% of the population beyond a half-mile (urban tract) or 10-mile (rural tract) distance from a supermarket.

Related Health Outcomes & Exposures

Greenness, Obesity, Diabetes


Click here for References
  1. Food Insecurity Data Source: USDA Economic Research Service (ERS). Food Access Research Atlas. Data year 2019. Accessed April 2023.
  2. Cook JT, Frank DA. Food security, poverty, and human development in the United States. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2008;1136:193-209. doi:10.1196/annals.1425.001
  3. Gundersen C, Kreider B. Bounding the effects of food insecurity on children’s health outcomes. J Health Econ. 2009;28(5):971-983. doi:10.1016/j.jhealeco.2009.06.012
  4. Hernandez DC, Reesor LM, Murillo R. Food insecurity and adult overweight/obesity: Gender and race/ethnic disparities. Appetite. 2017;117:373-378. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2017.07.010
  5. Jones AD, Ngure FM, Pelto G, Young SL. What are we assessing when we measure food security? A compendium and review of current metrics. Adv Nutr. 2013;4(5):481-505. Published 2013 Sep 1. doi:10.3945/an.113.004119
  6. Klesges LM, Pahor M, Shorr RI, Wan JY, Williamson JD, Guralnik JM. Financial difficulty in acquiring food among elderly disabled women: results from the Women’s Health and Aging Study. Am J Public Health. 2001;91(1):68-75. doi:10.2105/ajph.91.1.68
  7. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (OASH). Healthy People 2030: Social Determinants of Health Literature Summaries: Food Insecurity. US Department of Health and Human (USHHS). Accessed October 12, 2023.
  8. Perkins&Will. Healthy Schools by Design. Published April 18, 2023. Accessed October 19, 2023.
  9. Powell LM, Slater S, Mirtcheva D, Bao Y, Chaloupka FJ. Food store availability and neighborhood characteristics in the United States. Prev Med. 2007;44(3):189-195. doi:10.1016/j.ypmed.2006.08.008
  10. Seligman HK, Laraia BA, Kushel MB. Food insecurity is associated with chronic disease among low-income NHANES participants [published correction appears in J Nutr. 2011 Mar;141(3):542]. J Nutr. 2010;140(2):304-310. doi:10.3945/jn.109.112573
  11. Zenk SN, Schulz AJ, Israel BA, James SA, Bao S, Wilson ML. Neighborhood racial composition, neighborhood poverty, and the spatial accessibility of supermarkets in metropolitan Detroit. Am J Public Health. 2005;95(4):660-667. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2004.042150