Free Interactive Report
Hunger and Malnutrition in the US
SDG 2, Zero Hunger, aims to end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture by 2030. Addressing food insecurity, undernourishment, and malnutrition will require addressing food waste, food deserts, and improving access to support systems like food stamps (SNAP), food banks and pantries, and school lunch programs. It also means ensuring our food production systems and agricultural practices are more productive, have less impact on the environment, and are resistant to the impacts of climate change and extreme weather.
Hunger and Malnutrition in the US in Context
Hunger is the leading cause of death in the world. A healthy diet, consisting of fruits and vegetables and low in sugar and calorie-dense processed foods, is essential to health. The ability to eat a healthy diet is largely determined by a person's access to affordable, healthy foods, which is often a consequence of the conditions and environment where they live.
It's estimated that more than 35 million people struggled with hunger in the US prior to the Covid-19 pandemic. Since 2020 that number has now risen to over 50 million.
In the US, 11 million children live in food-insecure households. Federal Food Programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), often referred to as food stamps, support families with food purchases. In 2021, 8% of households are receiving SNAP benefits.
The US has both a production and consumption problem when it comes to food. With over 35 million people facing food insecurity in the US, an estimated 35% of all food in the US was unsold or uneaten (surplus food) – totaling over $400 billion. The opportunity is ripe for social innovators to tackle this matching problem as we waste $11,000 worth of food per every person in the US facing food insecurity. This Interactive Report on Responsible Consumption and Production in the US , shows some key indicators related to food waste in the US.
Hunger in the US can be linked with a range of other issues. Disruptions in employment or a month of unexpected costs can push many families into having to decide between buying food or paying a bill. Poverty is a leading root cause of food insecurity in the country. Our Interactive Report on Poverty in the US shows some key indicators as well as the organizations working to eradicate poverty.
Food insecurity is defined by the USDA as ‘a lack of access, at times, to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members and limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate foods.
Food insecurity affects approximately 11% of US households impacting 11 million children, yet, we throw away $400B worth of food every single year; we do not have a production but an equitable distribution problem.
This problem is more common in Black, Latinx, and Native American households . It also disproportionately impacts rural areas, which make up 63% of all counties in the United State but 87% of counties with the highest rates of food insecurity.
Feeding America also estimates that the number of food-insecure seniors may grow to more than 8 million by 2050.
Food deserts are areas where access to affordable, healthy food options is extremely limited, or even nonexistent because of a lack of grocery stores in the area, or the distance to a store being too far for people to access easily. As a result, people often rely on fast-food restaurants and gas stations.
COVID-19 and Hunger in the US
Food insecurity across the country has risen significantly since the pandemic, Feeding America estimates that more than 54 million people in the country, including 18 million children, were impacted.
Nearly 30 million children in the United States qualified for free or reduced-cost lunches at school in 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic complicated food insecurity among children as schools transitioned to virtual, remote learning.
Undernourishment means that a person is not consuming enough food to meet their daily minimum calorie energy requirements, over a period of one year. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) defines hunger as being synonymous with chronic undernourishment.
- Undernutrition can be the result of short-term (disease) or chronic (food insecurity) problems. It makes children in particular much more vulnerable to disease and death and
- Overweight and Obesity – obesity significantly increases a person’s risk for other diseases and health problems and can impact children and adults. In 2017, 14.3% of deaths in the US were attributed to obesity.
- Micronutrient deficiencies – micronutrients are vitamins and minerals essential for physical and mental development. Lacking a proper amount of micronutrients is often referred to as ‘hidden hunger’ because the impacts of these deficiencies are not always visible.
Explore More Using Our Interactive Report
This interactive report is continuously updated and it is free thanks to X4Impact Founding Partners. The report highlights some selected hunger-related indicators.
You can view hunger and malnutrition statistics nationally, or by state. You can also understand the flow of money to fund nonprofits working on mitigating hunger, as well as exploring by state the list of nonprofits that work on this issue.
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The Negative Effects of Hunger in the US
The impacts of not having enough to eat and/or not having enough nutritious food to eat can lead to increased health problems and associated costs for getting care.
- Malnutrition, in particular, negatively impacts:
- Physical and mental development in children
- Resistance to disease in people of all ages
- Mental health
- General losses in productivity and potential
The Economic Impact of Food Insecurity and Malnutrition
- $38.5 billion is currently being spent by nonprofits to address hunger in the United States each year. That breaks down to more than $3,000 per food-insecure household each year.
- $130.5 billion is lost each year due to illness-related costs caused by hunger and food insecurity.
- $19.2 billion – the estimated value of the poor educational outcomes and lower lifetime earnings as a result of people experiencing hunger and food insecurity.
Key Indicators of Success Defined by the United Nations for UN SDG 2
The United Nations has defined 8 Targets and 13 Indicators to track progress towards reaching the Sustainable Development Goal of Zero Hunger by 2030. Indicators for success include:
- The proportion of the population living in food deserts.
- The proportion of the population living in food-insecure households.
- The proportion of the population that is malnourished (this includes both underweight and overweight, and all age groups).
- Amount of food wasted per year.
* These are food pantries, food banks, soup kitchens, and related organizations. The number is larger than the dataset in the Nonprofit Social Funding section of this report as not all these nonprofits filed digitally with the IRS.
Interactive charts sources:
- Food Insecurity: Household Food Security in the United States in 2019, ERR-275, US Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service.
- Children Food Insecurity: The Annie E. Casey Foundation Kids Count Data Center 2019
- SNAP – Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program: US Census Bureau data, 2020
- Food Pantries, Food Banks and Similar Programs: X4Impact Analysis of IRS returns and FoodPantries.org
- Nonprofit-related data: X4Impact analysis of over 600,000 forms 990 filed with the Internal Revenue Service -IRS 2018-2020
- Feeding America – Hunger in America
- SDG Tracker – Zero Hunger
- The Global Goals – #2 Zero Hunger
- USDA – Food Security in the US
- USDA – Food Deserts
- Iowa Food Bank – Impacts of Hunger on the Economy
- AAMC – 54 million people in America face food insecurity during the pandemic.
- WHO – Malnutrition
- Our World in Data – Micronutrient Deficiency
- Our World in Data – Obesity
- Our World in Data – Hunger and Undernourishment
- FAO – Indicator 2.1.1 - Prevalence of undernourishment