Food Insecurity: Defining Key Terms


For the purposes of this report, the following definitions are used for various terms relating to food insecurity:


Food insecurity

A household-level economic and social condition of limited or uncertain access to adequate food.


Low Food Security: Generally, people who fall into this category have had to make changes in the quality or the quantity of their food in order to deal with a limited budget.

Very Low Food Security: People who fall into this category have struggled with having enough food for the household, including cutting back or skipping meals on a frequent basis.



Hunger is an individual-level physical sensation and psychological condition that may result from food insecurity.


Food affordability

Affordability of food refers to the price of a particular food and the relative price of alternative or substitute foods. Affordability is also impacted by the budget constraints faced by consumers.


Economic security

The degree to which individuals can meet their basic needs and are protected against hardship-causing economic losses.


Food safety

Food safety is the science of protecting our food supply from contamination by disease-causing bacteria, viruses, chemicals and other threats to health.


Healthy food

Meeting the school meal nutrition standards recommended by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) or the USDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Sources:, USDA Economic Research Service, USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, WHO, Economic Security Index, Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future.