Food Insecurity

Food insecurity hurts communities across the country. A recent report from Feeding America revealed the negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, like rising food and housing costs due to inflation, were associated with increased hunger across the U.S.[1]
The U.S. Department of Agriculture broadly defines low food security as the reduction in the quality and variety of diet, as well as disrupted eating patterns and reduced food intake in the past year for financial reasons.[2] According to the USDA, approximately 10.2% of U.S. households (13.5 million people) experienced some form of food insecurity in 2021, and 3.8% (5.1 million people) experienced very low food security.
In studies from across the country, food insecurity has been linked to poor health conditions such as obesity,[3] diabetes,[4] high blood pressure,[4] and depression.[5] Prior research also shows that food insecurity varies based on demographic characteristics. Black and Hispanic people,[6],[7] immigrants,[8] and people with disabilities[9] are more likely to be impacted by food insecurity.
A variety of indicators can be used to capture food insecurity, like survey questions (e.g., “In the last 12 months, did you or other adults in the household ever cut the size of your meals or skip meals because there wasn't enough money for food?”), enrollment in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP),[10] or reported income compared to the poverty line.[11] For the food insecurity indicator, this report presents data for enrollment in SNAP, collected each year by ACS.
In 2021 in San Diego County, 10.2% of residents were enrolled in SNAP. There were substantial inequities by race/ethnicity, with 20.2% of Black or African American, 17.1% of Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander, 15.7% of Hispanic or Latino, and 12.5% of Some Other Race people enrolled in SNAP, compared to 5.8% of White people (Figure 1). Enrollment in SNAP was also higher among people with reported disabilities compared to people without reported disabilities (Figure 3) and among immigrants compared to non-immigrants (Figure 4).
SNAP enrollment rates for each ZCTA are shown at the household level in Figure 5. Compared to other regions in the county, the southern and eastern regions had higher percentages of households enrolled in SNAP.
Local programs in San Diego County like Feeding San Diego and the San Diego Food Bank offer potential solutions to address food insecurity and barriers to accessing healthy and affordable food. To establish potential solutions to serve San Diego communities, identifying food insecurity is key. For example, integrating food insecurity screening and referral systems into low-income community programs or clinics can help San Diego residents in need of food.

Data Information
Figures 1-4 Data Source: 2021 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates from IPUMS USA.
  • Persons of Hispanic or Latino ethnicity may belong to any race group. All categories except Hispanic or Latino include persons for whom race is known but ethnicity is non-Hispanic or unknown.
Figure 5 Data Source: 2021 American Community Survey 5-year Estimates, Table DP03.
  • The ACS produces estimates based on a sample of the population. Percentages at or near 0% or 100% should be interpreted with caution.
  • Unavailable data include ZCTAs that are not defined by the U.S. Census Bureau and ZCTAs with missing or censored data.
  1. Feeding America. (2022). Elevating voices to end hunger: Community-driven solutions to address America’s hunger crisis.
  2. Coleman-Jensen, A., Rabbitt, M.P., Gregory, C.A., Singh, A. (2022). Household Food Security in the United States in 2021, ERR-309. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service.
  3. Testa, A., & Jackson, D. B. (2019). Food insecurity, food deserts, and waist-to-height ratio: Variation by sex and race/ethnicity. Journal of Community Health, 44(3), 444-450.
  4. Te Vazquez, J., Feng, S. N., Orr, C. J., & Berkowitz, S. A. (2021). Food insecurity and cardiometabolic conditions: A review of recent research. Current Nutrition Reports, 1-12.
  5. Pourmotabbed, A., Moradi, S., Babaei, A., Ghavami, A., Mohammadi, H., Jalili, C., ... & Miraghajani, M. (2020). Food insecurity and mental health: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Public Health Nutrition, 23(10), 1778-1790.
  6. Myers, A. M., & Painter, M. A. (2017). Food insecurity in the United States of America: An examination of race/ethnicity and nativity. Food Security, 9(6), 1419-1432.
  7. Potochnick, S., Perreira, K. M., Bravin, J. I., Castañeda, S. F., Daviglus, M. L., Gallo, L. C., & Isasi, C. R. (2019). Food insecurity among Hispanic/Latino youth: Who is at risk and what are the health correlates?. Journal of Adolescent Health, 64(5), 631-639.
  8. Maynard, M., Dean, J., Rodriguez, P. I., Sriranganathan, G., Qutub, M., & Kirkpatrick, S. I. (2019). The experience of food insecurity among immigrants: A scoping review. Journal of International Migration and Integration, 20(2), 375-417.
  9. Coleman-Jensen, A. (2020). U.S food insecurity and population trends with a focus on adults with disabilities. Physiology & Behavior, 220, 112865.
  10. Smith, S., Malinak, D., Chang, J., Perez, M., Perez, S., Settlecowski, E., ... & Aedo, S. (2017). Implementation of a food insecurity screening and referral program in student-run free clinics in San Diego, California. Preventive Medicine Reports, 5, 134-139.
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Updated February 7, 2024