Food Insecurity


Food Insecurity - When someone suffers from food insecurity, it means that they experience inconsistent access to adequate food, due to a lack of money and/or other resources at times during the year. This includes the limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally-adequate and safe foods, including involuntarily cutting back on meals or food portions, or not knowing the source of the next meal.  Food insecurity includes categories of “low” and “very low” food security, indicating degrees to which food intake is reduced or normal eating patterns are disrupted because of lack of money and other resources for food (1).

Hunger - Hunger is a physiological condition for an individual that may result from food insecurity. It is a potential consequence of food insecurity that, because of prolonged, involuntary lack of food, results in discomfort, illness, weakness or pain that goes beyond the usual uneasy sensation (1).

Food Desert - Geographic areas that lack reasonable access to fresh fruit, vegetables and other healthful whole foods are called food deserts. These are usually found in impoverished areas. Food deserts occur largely due to a lack of grocery stores, farmers’ markets and healthy food providers. A “low-access community” is where at least 500 people and/or at least 33 percent of the census tract’s population resides more than 1 mile from a supermarket or large grocery store. For rural census tracts, the distance is more than 10 miles (2).

The Jefferson County Food Policy Council has further refined this definition for its work in the County, considering household income levels, educational attainment, percent of owner occupied housing units, percent of the labor force in professional occupations, unemployment levels and the percent of households in poverty. These factors have been used by Harvard Law School to define geographic areas where food insecurity exists. The Food Policy Council has used this tool to define areas in Jefferson County experiencing food insecurity. Some of these include southeast Arvada, Wheat Ridge where it borders Arvada, east Lakewood, southwest Golden and parts of the unincorporated mountain areas.

Poverty - Poverty is a state or condition in which a person or community lacks the financial resources and essentials to enjoy a minimum standard of life and well-being. These include resources such as include shelter, food and water. Federal poverty guidelines (or poverty thresholds) are set by the U.S. government each year to determine a household’s poverty status based on household income, family size, composition and age of family members (3). 

In 2016, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated that 12.3 percent of United States households were food insecure. This includes 4.9 percent who had very low food security, which is categorized by a family member going without or drastically reducing food consumption due to lack of money or other means for obtaining food (4). Overall, food insecurity in the United States remains high, as it has for the past several years, with households continuing to experience the lingering effects of the Great Recession. Current levels of food insecurity remain above pre-recession levels in 2007, when 11.1 percent of households were insecure nationally and 10.3 percent of Coloradans struggled with hunger (4,5).

Food insecurity not only impacts the availability of food in a household, but it also has significant health implications as well. A Hunger in America survey, taken in 2014, found that among households served by food banks, 58 percent had a family member with high blood pressure and 33 percent had at least one member with diabetes (6).

"In Jefferson County, 59,110, or more than 1 in 10, Jefferson County residents are food insecure."

- Feeding America: Map the Meal Gap 2017

One of the programs addressing food insecurity in the United States is the Supplemental Nutrition and Assistance Program (SNAP), an income-based program created by the Food Stamp Act of 1964 with the intention of improving nutrition among families with low-income by providing them with monthly benefits to purchase food (7). Another program is the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), which was established as a permanent program in 1974 to safeguard the health of pregnant, postpartum and breastfeeding women with low income, infants and children up to age 5 by providing nutritious foods to supplement diets, as well as nutrition education and breastfeeding promotion and support (8). WIC also supports fathers, grandparents, adopted and foster families with children who meet the enrollment guidelines. Another program, the National School Lunch Program, provides federally-assisted, nutritionally-balanced, low-cost or free lunches to children in public and nonprofit private schools (9).

Public assistance programs, such as SNAP and WIC, have been crucial in not just alleviating the effects of poverty and food insecurity, but also improving dietary intake and health, especially among children (10). Still, food assistance programs are just one step in improving nutritional outcomes among individuals and families with lower income. Additional efforts are needed to create awareness and knowledge of healthy eating practices. One example of this kind of intervention is The Double Up Food Bucks program, which combines nutrition education with financial incentives for the purchase of fruits and vegetables for SNAP enrollees at farmers markets in low-income neighborhoods with food deserts (11).

Source: Feeding America,

Health Disparities and Inequities

US Census, ACS 2018 - 1 year estimates, Table: S2201

There is a growing pool of evidence suggesting that the higher price of healthier foods contributes to poor diets among lower-income populations. In general, nutrient-dense fresh fruits and vegetables are more expensive than energy-dense foods, like processed foods, which have relatively high sugar and fat content (12). A considerable amount of research demonstrates that people living in or near poverty have disproportionately worse health outcomes and less access to health care than those who do not (10). Communities made up of largely people with low income, ethnic minorities and lower levels of education, are most likely to have their local food system dominated by cheap, processed, and nutrient deficient foods. Inner city and rural communities are more likely to as well (13).

Implications and Data for Jefferson County

Percent of the population that is food insecure, Jefferson County and Colorado (2017)

Community Health Needs Assessment Focus Group Findings

Focus groups countywide expressed concern about food insecurity, with many participants saying that certain groups in their community were most affected by it. Participants recognized that individuals obtaining food with SNAP benefits and/or from food pantries do not always have access to more nutritious food choices. These limited options, paired with the high cost of fruits and vegetables, were seen to influence obesity, diabetes, and other chronic diseases.

Some residents were especially concerned about food insecurity among grade school students. For those participating in the Free and Reduced Lunch Program, participants were unsure if they had access to healthy food in the summer months through summer feeding programs. Click here to learn more about healthy eating.

"In 2016, 40 percent of those that were eligible for SNAP benefits in Jefferson County were not enrolled the SNAP program."

- Hunger Free Colorado data (2016)

Percent of households that are below poverty level and are not receiving SNAP benefits.

The dark blue areas are census tracts where little to no households below poverty are receiving SNAP benefits.

Source: US Census, ACS 5-year estimates (2013-2017), Table: S2201

Hunger Free Colorado 2018 Jefferson County Report (2016)

Community Health Needs Assessment Key Informant Interview Findings

Food insecurity was an issue raised by numerous key informants, who noted that food insecurity within the county is a substantial issue for the homeless and low-income families and individuals. Specific groups that struggle with these issues are Hispanics and Latinos, single parents and older adults on fixed incomes. Key informants working with Hispanic and Latino residents expressed that access to healthy foods via grocery stores is an issue in some parts of the community. Informants also expressed concern that food insecurity for residents is worsened by rising housing costs, which impacts people’s ability to afford and eat healthier foods. Some key informants are currently planning food assessments in parts of the county to gain a better understanding of local food insecurity issues and which groups are most affected.

To find the percent of students receiving free and reduced lunches in your school, click 'Filter by School Name' below, and select your school name.

Community Resources within Jefferson County

The Action Center 303-237-7704
8755 W 14th Ave, Lakewood, CO 80215
Emergency, 5-day supply of food for eligible residents of Jefferson County

Catholic Charities 303-742-0828
Emergency food or food referrals to closest parish church by zip code

Community Table (formerly known as the Arvada Community Food Bank) 303-424-6685
Provides emergency food, employment and financial services

Hunger Free Hotline 720-382-2920
To connect to food resources, sign up for SNAP and other federal nutrition programs

Jefferson County Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (Food Stamps) 303-271-1388 or 303-271-4047
Jefferson County Human Services, 900 Jefferson County Pkwy, Golden, CO 80401

Light of the World Catholic Church 303-973-3969
The church has a food pantry and offers financial and employment services

WIC at Jefferson County Public Health 303-271-5780
Nutrition program for low-income, pregnant, postpartum, breastfeeding women, infants, and children up to age 5

Links to additional resources:
Golden Backpack Program
JeffCo Eats
Jefferson County Food Policy Council
Jefferson County Meals on Wheels
Star Acre Farms

Local Food Pantries:
- Belmar Baptist Church
- Carpenters Cupboard
- Green Mountain Christian Church
- River Church
- Grace Covenant Church
- Westwoods Community Church Food Bank
- SSA-Lakewood
- Homebound Delivery - Lakewood
- Labor's Community Agency
- Feeding Minds - Enriching Lives
- Bear Creek Church
- The Action Center
- Mean Street Ministry
- Calvary Episcopal Church
- His Provision, Inc.
- Interchurch Arms
- Peace Lutheran Church
- The New Apostolic Church Food Pantry

Get Involved!

The mission of the Food Policy Council is to influence policy to increase equitable access to healthy, local and affordable food and support a sustainable community food system. For those interested in finding out more about hunger and food insecurity in Jefferson County, and working towards solutions, please contact Marion Kalb at or 303-239-7159. 


Reference List

1. United States Department of Agriculture. (2018). Definitions of Food Security. Retrieved from:

2. American Nutritional Association. (2018). USDA Defines Food Deserts. Retrieved from:

3. United States Census Bureau. (2018). How the Census Bureau Measures Poverty. Retrieved from:

4. Coleman-Jense, A., Rabbitt, M., Gregory, C., Singh, A. United States Department of Agriculture. (2017, September). Household Food Security in the United States in 2016 (Economic Research Report Number 237). Retrieved from:

5. Hunger Free Colorado. (2018). The Facts: Hunger in Colorado. Retrieved from:

6. Feeding America. (2018). What are the connections between food insecurity and health? Retrieved from:

7. United States Department of Agriculture. (2018). A short history of SNAP. Retrieved from:

8. United States Department of Agriculture (2018). The special supplemental nutrition program for women, infants, and children (WIC program) [Fact Sheet]. Retrieved from:

9. United States Department of Agriculture. (2018, March 12). National School Lunch Program. Retrieved from:

10. Food Action Research and Policy Center. (2017, December). The Impact of Poverty, Food Insecurity and Hunger and Poor Nutrition on Health and Wellbeing [Issue Brief]. Retrieved from:

11. Bowling, A. B., Moretti, M., Ringelheim, K., Tran, A., & Davison, K. (2016). Healthy Foods, Healthy Families: combining incentives and exposure interventions at urban farmers’ markets to improve nutrition among recipients of US federal food assistance. Health Promotion Perspectives, 6(1), 10–16.  

12. Drewnowski, A., Specter, S. (2004). Poverty and obesity: the role of energy density and energy costs. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 79, Issue 1, Pages 6–16,

13. Neff, R. A., Palmer, A. M., Mckenzie, S. E., & Lawrence, R. S. (2009). Food Systems and Public Health Disparities. Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition, 4(3-4), 282–314. 


Data Sources

Feeding American: Map the Meal Gap 2017:

US Census, ACS: American Community Survey - American Factfinder (Table: S2201):

Hunger Free Colorado:

CO Department of Education:

HKCS: Healthy Kids Colorado Survey:

CO Child Health Survey:

Click the logos below to return to the assessment home page.

Published on July 17, 2018

Updated on January 28, 2020