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What Is Food Insecurity?

Updated: Mar 23, 2023

Most Georgia households have consistent, dependable access to enough food for active, healthy living—they are food secure. However, in most recent years, many households are now experiencing food insecurity at times during the year, meaning their access to adequate food is limited by a lack of money and other resources.

What Is Food Security?

According to the USDA, Food security for a household means access by all members at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life. (Coleman-Jensen et al.) Food security includes at a minimum:

  • The ready availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods.

  • Assured ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways (that is, without resorting to emergency food supplies, scavenging, stealing, or other coping strategies).

...and Food Insecurity?

Food insecurity is the limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods, or limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways.

(Definitions are from the Life Sciences Research Office, S.A. Andersen, ed., "Core Indicators of Nutritional State for Difficult to Sample Populations," The Journal of Nutrition 120:1557S-1600S, 1990.)

Does USDA Measure Hunger?

While this information is incredibly important, USDA does not have a measure of hunger or the number of hungry people. Prior to 2006, USDA described households with very low food security as "food insecure with hunger" and characterized them as households in which one or more people were hungry at times during the year because they could not afford enough food. "Hunger" in that description referred to "the uneasy or painful sensation caused by lack of food."

Information about the incidence of hunger is still of considerable interest and potential value for policy and program design. But providing precise and useful information about hunger is hampered by the lack of a consistent meaning of the word.

"Hunger" is understood variously by different people to refer to conditions across a broad range of severity, from rather mild food insecurity to prolonged clinical undernutrition. (Coleman-Jensen et al.)

Being Food Insecure.

Households that report three or more conditions that indicate food insecurity are classified as "food insecure." That is, they were at times unable to acquire adequate food for one or more household members because they had insufficient money and other resources for food. The three least severe conditions that would result in a household being classified as food insecure are:

  • They worried whether their food would run out before they got money to buy more.

  • The food they bought didn't last, and they didn't have money to get more.

  • They couldn't afford to eat balanced meals.

Households are also classified as food insecure if they report any combination of three or more conditions, including any more severe conditions.

Coleman-Jensen, Alisha, et al. “What Is Food Security?” Measurement, Oct. 2022,

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