Percentage of residents
experiencing food insecurity
According to Feeding America’s Map the Meal Gap, 14.7% of Austin residents are projected to have experienced food insecurity in 2021.
Food insecurity is defined by the United States Department of Agriculture as “the limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods or limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways”. Food insecurity is a key social determinant of health and plays a critical role in health outcomes.
People who are food insecure are disproportionally affected by diet-related chronic diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure, as well as other adverse health and developmental effects. A lack of adequate food can exacerbate other underlying health conditions, lead to serious health complications, impact a child’s ability to learn and grow, and create difficult trade-offs for people who are forced to choose between spending limited resources on food, medical care, housing, or transportation. Inadequate access to nutritious food has negative impacts on individuals of all ages.
Map the Meal Gap uses publicly available data from the U.S. Census Bureau and Bureau of Labor Statistics on factors that are shown to contribute to food insecurity such as unemployment and poverty as well as other socioeconomic and demographic characteristics. Beginning in 2020, the Map the Meal Gap estimates also account for disability status, one of the key risk factors for food insecurity.
As Austin continues to grow, so do concerns around affordability. Many families are directing more of their household budget toward housing costs, with fewer resources available for food, transportation, childcare, and healthcare. Higher-priced housing is also displacing populations from the central city to suburban and rural areas with fewer amenities and resources.
Everyone in our community deserves access to high quality food retail. However, solutions focused on bringing new food retail to areas with food access barriers are challenging to implement. Many grocers and food retailers operate on thin margins and require population density that is often not present in new growth and rural areas. Supporting the development of a right-sized, community-supported food retail establishment that can serve and stabilize the community should be a priority. To improve access to healthy and affordable food with more viable food retail opportunities, Austin Public Health provided a new full time position in 2016 to implement Healthy Food Retail strategies. Collectively known as the Fresh for Less program, these strategies are designed to remove barriers to equitable food access and increase the amount of healthy and affordable food retail available in low-income communities, as well as provide community members with additional purchasing power for nutritious food items. To address the gap between the number of residents who are eligible to receive SNAP benefits and those who actually participate in the program, Austin Public Health worked with The University of Texas School of Public Health to identify barriers to enrollment and funded a media campaign that resulted in increased calls to the Central Texas Food Bank to initiate the enrollment process.
Note: To see the underlying data for the chart above, please select the "View Source Data" link.
Food insecurity rates have been declining over the last few years. In 2018, the prevalence of food insecurity in the United States declined to levels not seen since before the Great Recession that began in 2007. 2020 food insecurity projections show a sharp departure from that progress. The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting recession put vulnerable families and individuals at an even higher risk for food insecurity. 2021 food insecurity rates have declined since 2020, but are still elevated as people are struggling in the midst of the global pandemic.
Additional Measure Insights
While Austin can celebrate a vibrant economy and a multitude of food assets (food retail, community and school gardens, food pantries, farmers markets, and more), the city’s food insecurity rate is still higher than the national average of 16.7 percent. An extensive outreach effort led by the Office of Sustainability showed that the experience of food security is influenced by many factors; however, four key barriers to accessing healthy food were identified: 1) Availability of healthy food, 2) Affordability of fresh produce, 3) Awareness of food assistance programs, and 4) Mobility options.
A food environment is a set of factors--physical, economic, and social -- that influence where an individual shops for food, and what kinds of food they purchase. This Food Environment Analysis expands the traditional food desert maps to offer a more detailed and nuanced understanding of healthy food access in Austin-Travis County.
According to this 2017 Food Environment Analysis, 11% of all African-Americans in Austin-Travis County live in areas that face all four barriers to healthy food access, compared to 9% of Latinx, 5% of Asian-American, and 5% of white residents.
Food Environment Assessment (2017)
Explore the areas in Austin that are facing barriers to healthy food access by clicking on the map to identify which food environment barriers are present in the selected area.
Measure Details and Definition
1) Definition: Food insecurity describes the inadequate access to enough food to live an active, healthy life. Food insecurity is one way we can measure and assess the risk of hunger.
2) Calculation method: This measure was calculated by dividing the estimated food insecure population for Austin MSA by the total population for Austin MSA.
3) Data Collection Process: Food insecurity estimates by Census Tracts are provided by Feeding America, the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief organization. For more information on Feeding America's methodology, visit their website.
4) Measure Target Calculation: The target was calculated based on the national food insecurity rate. We aim to be below the national average of 12.9% food insecurity rate for 2021. Because the national average changes year-to-year, the target will also change.
5) Frequency Measure is Reported: Annually (Calendar Year)
Date page was last updated: December 2021