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Food insecurity higher in rural America

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Published on Jan. 25, 2020

No community in America is immune to hunger, including rural areas. In fact, in the rural areas where most of our nation’s food is grown, households face considerably deeper struggles with hunger than metropolitan areas.

            During the American Farm Bureau Federation’s (AFBF) Jan. 16 Newsline podcast, AFBF Economic Analyst Megan Nelson and AFBF Newsline Host Michael Clements discussed the higher percentage of food insecurity in rural areas.

Food insecurity 

            The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines food insecurity as a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life. While hunger and food insecurity are closely related, USDA notes they are distinct concepts.

According to Nelson, food insecure homes are those that lack the resources needed to acquire food, while hunger is a physical sensation of discomfort. 

            “Food insecure households are defined as those who had difficulty at some point in a given time period providing food for all members due to lack of resources,” Nelson explains. “This could be money or transportation of any kind.”

            According to USDA, there are four levels of food security that describe the range of households’ experience in accessing enough food. 

            High food secure households are those who had no problems or anxieties about consistently accessing adequate food and marginal food secure households are those who had problems or anxieties at times about accessing adequate food, but the quality, variety and quantity of their food was not substantially reduced. These two levels are considered food secure.

            On the other hand, low food secure households are those with a reduced quality, variety and desirability of their diets but the quantity of food intake and normal eating patterns are not substantially disrupted. Very low food insecure households are those who at times during the year, eating patterns of one of more household members were disrupted and food intake reduced because the household lacked money or other resources. These two levels are considered food insecure.

            While food insecurity is also related to poverty, not all people living below the poverty line experience food insecurity, and similarly, people living above the poverty line can experience food insecurity.

            “USDA’s Economic Research Service reported 11.1 percent of U.S. households were food insecure at some point during 2018, down from 11.8 percent in 2017,” says Clements. “This equates to an estimated 37 million Americans, including more than 11 million children.”

Food insecurity in rural areas

            Nelson notes food insecurity varies by region, with rural areas having higher rates of food insecure households. 

            “The prevalence of food insecurity in rural areas is significantly higher,” she points out. “Typically food insecurity in rural areas is about two or three percentage points higher than the national average.”

            In fact, according to Clements, 12.7 percent of households in rural areas experienced food insecurity in 2018, while 10.8 percent of households in metropolitan areas experienced food insecurity in the same year. 

            Nelson also notes 20 percent of rural counties are considered food deserts.

            “A food desert is generally classified as a county where residents must drive more than 10 miles to the nearest supermarket or grocery store,” Nelson explains. “I think we can all picture what this might look like for those who don’t have a working vehicle or don’t have enough money for gas. The inaccessibility to get to the supermarket to purchase food is a major barrier for some rural families.”

Consequences of food insecurity

            According to the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), hunger and health are deeply connected and food insecurity is linked to a wide range of negative health outcomes. Because of this, rural America is at a higher risk for poor health outcomes than their urban counterparts. 

            A study done by FRAC found food insecurity was linked to poorer health, less exercise and lower grades in rural adolescents, leading to higher rates of overweight and obese children. The study also found food insecurity leads to a greater risk of Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and psychological and behavioral issues. 

            Hannah Bugas is the assistant editor for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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