Alleviating Food Insecurity Using Nutrition Education Programs

In this publication, we will address the critical issue of food insecurity through the lens of nutrition education programs. We will explore how these programs play a pivotal role in providing access to food and empowering communities with the knowledge to make informed and nutritious choices. Whether you are a policy maker, community leader, or individual passionate about making a positive impact, this publication highlights effective strategies to alleviate food insecurity. Understanding how education can catalyze change and foster healthier communities will pave the way toward a future where everyone can access nutritious foods.

Food Insecurity and Nutrition Education

In the face of the persistent issue of food insecurity, communities are increasingly turning to Nutrition Education Programs as a pivotal solution. The Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education (SNAP-Ed) help reduce food insecurity within low-income families who utilize resource management skills and have reduced the risk of food insecurity. Evaluations of SNAP-Ed with comparison groups have found improvements in food security.1 These programs are vital in alleviating immediate hunger and fostering long-term solutions to this multifaceted challenge. As the fight against food insecurity gains momentum, evidence points to the effectiveness of nutrition education programs in promoting healthier food choices, improving dietary habits, and ultimately breaking the cycle of hunger. EFNEP focuses on healthy nutritional practices and resource management to help develop healthy eating habits and food security in low-income populations.1

Food insecurity is a lack of accessibility to enough food for an individual to live an active, healthy life.2 Food insecurity can have significant physical, mental, and emotional impacts on individuals and communities. While food insecurity influences diet and body weight, it also affects psychological well-being. Specifically, food insecurity encompasses issues of psychological acceptability; an individual may experience feelings of deprivation or restricted food choice and anxiety about food supplies due to food insecurity.3 Food insecurity is not evenly distributed, as rural areas often experience higher rates of food insecurity than urban areas. Food insecurity affects about 35.3% of the population who live below the federal poverty line, leaving families and individuals struggling to access sufficient, nutritious food.4 The issue goes beyond access to food; it is also about ensuring the available food meets the nutritional needs of individuals and families.

Causes of Food Insecurity

The causes of food insecurity can be complex and influenced by various factors, including but not limited to, geographic location, income, and accessibility. These factors can make it difficult for individuals and families to obtain the food they need to maintain a healthy diet. In rural areas, accessibility to affordable and nutritious food can be limited due to lower household incomes, distance from grocery stores and restaurants, and lack of transportation. Some areas, particularly low-income neighborhoods in rural towns, are known to be food deserts because there are no supermarkets or other food retailers that carry affordable and nutritious food.5 Additionally, many small towns lack a variety of grocery stores and restaurants; therefore, there is a limited selection of food options, which can also be problematic for those with dietary restrictions. In urban areas, food insecurity is often linked to poverty, with low-income households struggling to afford healthy food options. While urban areas generally have a higher density of grocery stores and restaurants, the cost of healthy food can be prohibitively expensive for many families. Additionally, some metropolitan areas may also have food deserts.

Who is Affected by Food Insecurity

Food insecurity affects various individuals and families across different socio-economic backgrounds. One in eight US households, or 12.8%, experienced food insecurity at some point during the year 2022.6 This translates to over 44.2 million Americans, including children, adults, and senior citizens, who face challenges in regularly accessing sufficient and nutritious food.6 Households with children younger than eighteen have a prevalence of food insecurity that is double that of families without children at 16.2% versus 7.3%.7 The impact of food insecurity goes beyond mere hunger, influencing overall health, educational attainment, and long-term economic well-being for those affected.

Potential Solutions to Address Food Insecurity

Nutrition education programs have emerged as a compelling tool in addressing and combatting food insecurity and can have a lasting impact. Programs improve immediate food access and overall health by delivering the knowledge and skills to prepare nutritious meals.1 Participants are empowered to identify and utilize resources efficiently to make healthier food choices on a daily basis because they receive guidance on meal planning, budgeting, cooking techniques, and the nutritional value of different foods. This, in turn, can reduce healthcare costs associated with diet-related illnesses.

How EFNEP Assists to Reduce Food Insecurity

EFNEP is the nation’s first federal nutrition education program for low-income populations funded through the US Department of Agriculture, and it remains at the forefront of reducing nutrition insecurity in low-income families and youth today.7 Nutrition insecurity, characterized by poor nutrition, limited physical activity, and unsafe food practices, is often associated with food insecurity.8 Studies have shown that nutrition promotion, consumer education, and food resource management can assist food-insecure individuals in acquiring the knowledge, attitudes, skills, and behaviors needed to stretch limited food dollars, practice healthful dietary habits (including breastfeeding), and save medical costs and improve quality of life to help reduce food and nutrition insecurity.3 One of EFNEP’s core areas is to promote food security by helping participants identify and develop strategies to manage their food budgets and assistance resources, such as SNAP, to meet household needs. Saving money by planning meals, using a grocery list, and comparing prices can help prevent running out of food before the end of the month. EFNEP also assists in referring participants to food assistance and other social service programs. In some studies, EFNEP graduates had more significant improvements in food security than non-graduates.3 The South Carolina 2022 Statewide report showed that through EFNEP, 92% of adults and families improved their food resource management skills, and 39% of families were food-secure by the end of the program.9

One of the most beneficial aspects of nutrition education programs is the focus on community engagement and empowerment. EFNEP is a perfect example of how these programs often involve local stakeholders, volunteers, and educators who understand the unique challenges faced by their communities. Programs can help build resilience and a collective commitment to overcoming food insecurity by fostering a sense of ownership and collaboration.


Food insecurity is a significant issue in the United States. In the battle against food insecurity, nutrition education programs emerge as a beacon of hope. These programs empower individuals and families to take charge of their nutritional well-being by providing practical knowledge, skills, and resources. As we collectively strive to create a future free from hunger, investing in such programs offers a promising path toward sustainable changes.

References Cited

  1. Farrell JA, Cordeiro LS, Qian J, Sullivan-Werner L, and Nelson-Peterman JL. Food affordability, food security, and the expanded food and nutrition education program. Journal of Hunger and Environmental Nutrition. 2018 Apr 3;13(2):180-91. doi:10.1080/19320248.2017.1315326.
  2. Gundersen C, Ziliak JP. (2015). Food Insecurity and Health Outcomes. Health Affairs. 2015 Nov;34(11):1830-1839. doi:10.1377/hlthaff.2015.0645
  3. Myers CA. Food insecurity and psychological distress: a review of the recent literature. Current Nutrition Reports. 2020 Jun;9:107–118. doi:10.1007/s13668-020-00309-1.
  4. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Food Accessibility, insecurity, and health outcomes. Bethesda (MD): National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Minority Health and Health Disparities; 2023 Apr.
  5. USDA NIFA. 2022 Impacts: expanded food and nutrition education program (EFNEP). Washington (DC): USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture. 2022 [accessed 2023 Sep 21].
  6. Food Research & Action Center. Hunger & poverty in America. Washington (DC): Food & Research Action Center (FRAC); 2023 Oct [accessed 2023 Dec 7].‑poverty‑america#:~:text=Hunger%20Quick%20Facts%20for202022,Americans%20lived%20in%20these%20households.
  7. Dollahite J, Olson C, Scott-Pierce M. The impact of nutrition education on food insecurity among low-income participants in EFNEP. Family and Consumer Sciences Research Journal. 2003 Dec;32(2):127–39. doi:10.1177/1077727×03032002003.
  8. Healthy People 2030. Access to Foods That Support Healthy Dietary Patterns. Rockville (MD): Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, US Department of Health and Human Services.
  9. Méndez-Pérez M, Monroy-Torres R, Delgado-Sandoval S, Medina-Jiménez K. Food and nutritional insecurity before and during the COVID-19 pandemic in households of women belonging to a social program. Food and Nutrition Sciences. 2021 Jul 7;12(7):742-758. doi:10.4236/fns.2021.127056.

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