Food Insecurity

The Issue

The United States Department of Agriculture defines food security as having access to enough food for all household members, at all times, to lead an active, healthy life. Uncertainty around having or obtaining enough food to meet the needs of all members due to insufficient resources leads to food insecurity.

One in seven individuals in the Omaha metro region (Douglas, Sarpy and Pottawattamie Counties) experiences food insecurity. This local prevalence of food insecurity is reflective of the national figure: 14.7% of U.S. households were food insecure in 2009. View the USDA’s report on household food security.

During his 2008 campaign, President Obama set a goal to end childhood hunger by 2015. Strategies set forth by the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) included an emphasis on improving and expanding the nation’s nutrition programs (e.g., free and reduced school lunch program), and bolstering the economy and strengthening supports for working families in order to move more out of poverty, the root cause of hunger in this country.


In alignment with these efforts, the Gretchen Swanson Center for Nutrition seeks to better understand the factors that influence hunger in our communities, which we overlay with our nutrition and evaluation expertise in order to find potential solutions to this complex problem.

Because recent trends in food insecurity in the United States parallel population increases in obesity, we seek to identify the complex factors surrounding disparities and highlight necessary points of intervention for both further research and community action. We work with local and national partners in the exploration and ultimately explanation of food insecurity and related health disparities in our communities in order to provide or suggest potential solutions.


Hunger in Omaha

As part of the Center’s work on the Child Hunger Ends Here – Omaha Plan initiative, staff members have created an infographic, “Hunger in Our Backyard.” This infographic provides a brief overview of the project, which is a collaborative effort among various community partners to alleviate childhood hunger in the Omaha metro over a three-year period. The infographic additionally showcases a selection of results from the first year of data collection (2014), describes the various community partners involved and their roles in the collaborative, and discusses the collective impact model that we hope will continue to help establish a sustainable initiative.

To learn about the Child Hunger Ends Here project in Omaha, read this Omaha World-Herald story from December 18, 2013.

SNAP Infographic

A recent project for the ConAgra Foods Foundation involved examining multi-level data from a variety of sources to identify and describe factors that are related to participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). This assessment focused on a mixed methods approach to understanding factors associated with SNAP participation: (1) Multi-level Factors from the Scientific Literature, (2) Key Informant Interviews with State- and Community-Level Stakeholders and (3) Secondary Data Analysis. The SNAP program is one way that food security and sufficiency can be promoted across all groups in the U.S. Click here to see an infographic that was developed to offer a visual executive summary of our methods and results.

Institute of Medicine

Dr. Yaroch, the Center’s executive director, recently served on an Institute of Medicine committee to help develop a workshop to examine the potential relationship between food insecurity and obesity. The workshop resulted in a report titled “Hunger and Obesity: Understanding a Food Security Paradigm.” You can read the report here.

Hunger Free Heartland

The Center is a partner in the Hunger Free Heartland (HFH) initiative. The Center serves as the research arm of HFH to identify and contribute to the development of a scientific evidence base to inform community activities aimed at improving food security for households in the Omaha metro region.

The mission of HFH is to ensure that sustainable solutions are available to provide access to the nutritious foods children and their families need to live active, healthful lives. This initiative is a grassroots effort including representation from more than 50 businesses, charitable and community organizations including education, health care and social service groups and government representatives uniting behind a common purpose of providing children and their families with nutritious food. The initiative was launched in response to the growing need to alleviate child food insecurity in the Omaha metro area.

In January 2011, Center representatives presented a research brief to Hunger Free Heartland partners. In April 2011, a second brief that identifies local breakfast consumption habits was also presented.

Feeding America and Cooking Matters

The Center’s executive director, Dr. Amy Yaroch, serves on nutrition-related advisory groups for Feeding America and Share Our Strength’s Cooking Matters.


Read the article. “Poverty, Food Insecurity, and Obesity: A Conceptual Framework for Research, Practice, and Policy” in the Journal of Hunger and Environmental Nutrition.

“Hunger and Obesity: Understanding a Food Security Paradigm.” View the report.