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Why is this Important?


People living in poverty have annual incomes that often do not provide enough money to meet their basic needs, including food. In food insecure households, access to food is limited by a lack of money or other resources. For families to thrive in our community, healthy and nutritious food needs to be accessible and affordable. Often, families must choose between paying for food and paying for medicine, transportation or utilities.


Feeding America surveyed 2,300 of Iowa's approximately 530,000 food pantry clients for the Iowa report of the 2014 Hunger in America study. Here's what the survey found about food pantry clients:

  • 69 % are white, 17 % black and 7 % Hispanic.
  • 31 % are under the age of 18, and 11 % are over the age of 60.
  • 77 % have a high school degree or General Equivalency Diploma.
  • 96 % live in houses or apartments, and 4 % live in shelters or on the street.
  • 23 % of households don't have health insurance.
  • 66 % of households have a member who was employed in the last year.
  • 65 % have incomes at or below the federal poverty level.

Additionally, the study found that many households had to choose between paying for food and other items.

  • Medicine: 65 %.
  • Utilities: 59 %.
  • Transportation: 65 %.

Many Iowans are working, but do not have adequate savings and assets. With less than three months’ savings to fall back on, their families would be in crisis if they would lose their job, have a health emergency or experience any other predicament that disrupts their income. These Iowa families are only one step away from poverty and food insecurity.

An updated series of publications from Iowa State University Extension and Outreach addresses the relationship between poverty and food needs county-by-county in Iowa. The county profiles contain data on poverty, participation in food and nutrition assistance programs, and other food-related health and economic measures. They are available for free download from the Iowa Community Indicators Program at Iowa State University

Local leaders, decision-makers and nonprofit organizations can use the information in their county’s profile to better understand and address local food insecurity issues, said Kimberly Greder, an associate professor and extension specialist in human development and family studies at Iowa State.

“Food insecurity is the most important nutrition-related public health challenge facing the U.S. today,” said Greder, who researches food insecurity issues in Iowa and throughout the country. People who are food insecure do not have access at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life. In the U.S., approximately one out of seven households are food insecure. In Iowa, food insecurity effects one out of eight Iowa households.

A recent study of rural families across the U.S. by Greder and graduate student Kimberly Doudna found that food insecurity is directly related to anxiety, depression and withdrawal in children, as well as aggression, hyperactivity and noncompliance. These problem behaviors can lead to children having difficulty in school, depression, substance abuse and maladjustment later in life.

“Unemployment and underemployment are key factors in food insecurity. However, even when the unemployment rate decreases, food insecurity doesn’t necessarily decrease or decrease at the same rate,” Greder said.

People who have part-time jobs and low paying jobs help to decrease the unemployment rate. However, these jobs do not necessarily provide people enough income to meet their food needs, so food insecurity does not necessarily decrease, Greder said. Factors that help to reduce food insecurity include full-time employment that pays a livable wage, work supports such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and employee benefits such as child care assistance and health insurance.

The “Poverty and Food Needs Profiles” from ISU Extension and Outreach show a range of indicators related to food insecurity and health outcomes in each county in Iowa. They are updated regularly as new data become available. The profiles are prepared under the direction of Kimberly Greder, associate professor and extension specialist in the ISU Department of Human Development and Family Studies and Liesl Eathington, an assistant scientist in the ISU Department of Economics and the Iowa Community Indicators Program.[i]

USDA Report on Food Insecurity in 2014

A new report out by the USDA found that 48 million Americans lived in food insecure households in 2014. That means 14% of Americans lived in food insecurity, and nearly 20% of all households with children were food insecure. The USDA defines food insecurity as lacking access to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members.

In Iowa, the amount of food insecure people is lower than the national average: 11.4%.

The Agriculture Department's annual report on food security says 11.4 percent of Iowa households were "food insecure" in the three-year period covering 2012 to 2014, meaning they had difficulty at some point providing enough food for all family members. The level reflects a 0.6 percentage-point decrease from the 2009-11 record and a 1.2 percentage-point increase from a decade ago. Despite modest gains, many of our neighbors in Greater Des Moines are still struggling to find enough food to put on their plates. One in ten of us. We still have great challenges as we work to end hunger in Polk County.

-The Des Moines Register, September 9, 2015