Food insecurity*

Percentage of population who lack adequate access to food.

The 2021 County Health Rankings used data from 2018 for this measure.

Reason for Including

Lacking consistent access to food is related to negative health outcomes such as weight-gain and premature mortality.[1,2] In addition to asking about having a constant food supply in the past year, the measure also addresses the ability of individuals and families to provide balanced meals, including fruits and vegetables, further addressing barriers to healthy eating.

Key Measure Methods

Food Insecurity is a Percentage

Food Insecurity estimates the percentage of the population who did not have access to a reliable source of food during the past year.

Food Insecurity is Created Using Statistical Modeling

The Food Insecurity measure is modeled with the Core Food Insecurity Model which uses information from the Community Population Survey, Bureau of Labor Statistics, and American Community Survey. More detailed information can be found here.

Modeling generates more stable estimates for places with small numbers of residents or survey responses. However, there are also drawbacks to using modeled data. The smaller the population or sample size of a county, the more the estimates are derived from the model itself and the less they are based on survey responses. Models make statistical assumptions about relationships that may not hold in all cases. Finally, there is no perfect model, and each model generally has limitations specific to their methods.


The numerator is the population with a lack of access, at times, to enough food for an active, healthy life or with uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate foods.


The denominator is the total county population.

Can This Measure Be Used to Track Progress

This measure can be used to measure progress with some caveats. Modeled data are not particularly good at incorporating the effects of local conditions, such as health promotion policies or unique population characteristics, into their estimates. Counties trying to measure the effects of programs and policies on the data should use great caution when using modeled estimates. In order to better understand and validate modeled estimates, confirming this data with additional sources of data at the local level is particularly valuable.

Data Source

Years of Data Used


Map the Meal Gap

Feeding America first published the Map the Meal Gap project in early 2011, with the generous support of the Howard G. Buffett Foundation and The Nielsen Company, to learn more about the face of hunger at the local level. In August, 2011, with the support of the ConAgra Foods Foundation, child food insecurity data was added to the project. 

Gundersen, C., A. Dewey, M. Kato, A. Crumbaugh & M. Strayer. Map the Meal Gap 2019: A Report on County and Congressional District Food Insecurity and County Food Cost in the United States in 2017. Feeding America, 2019.

Digging Deeper
Age 1
Gender 0
Race 0
Education 0
Income 0
Subcounty Area 1

The USDA produces two excellent resources for communities looking to explore their food environment, the Food Access Research Atlas, and the Food Environment Atlas. Both resources are regularly updated and can provide you with information on where there are healthy food options, and where people live with few easy options for finding healthy foods.

In addition, Feeding America’s Map the Meal Gap program creates the annual estimates of food insecurity. They also provide a measure of child food insecurity.


[1] Brownson RC, Haire-Joshu D, Luke DA. Shaping the context of health: A review of environmental and policy approaches in the prevention of chronic diseases. Annu Rev Public Health 2006;27:341-70.

[2] Dhurandhar EJ. The food-insecurity obesity paradox: A resource scarcity hypothesis. Physiol Behav. 2016 Aug 1;162:88-92.

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