Study Finds Nearly 2 Million Adults in Massachusetts are Hungry

 

With exorbitant costs of living, increased grocery prices and the end of pandemic-era supports in 2023, 1 in 3 Massachusetts adults reported household food insecurity, according to the latest annual statewide study from The Greater Boston Food Bank (GBFB), with the overall number increasing to nearly two million food insecure adults in the Commonwealth. The report, Food Equity and Access in Massachusetts: Voices and Solutions from Lived Experience, is a collaboration between GBFB and Mass General Brigham (MGB).

The study estimates approximately 1.9 million adults in Massachusetts are food insecure, an increase from last year’s estimated 1.8 million adults. Hunger exists in every county across the Commonwealth, with Western Massachusetts and the Boston area seeing the highest levels of food insecurity – Berkshire, Bristol, Hampden and Suffolk Counties report over 45% of adults experiencing food insecurity in 2023.

Although many households experiencing food insecurity utilize federally funded programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Women, Infants, & Children Nutrition Program (WIC) and School and Summer meals, as well as Community Food Assistance Programs (food pantries, community meal programs or mobile markets), the study shows these programs remain inadequate at the current funding level to alleviate food insecurity in Massachusetts.

Seventy-nine percent of households using SNAP reported seeking additional food assistance. Additionally, three-quarters of people who used two or more food assistance programs still reported some level of food insecurity.

The households experiencing food insecurity reported on average needing approximately $60 more per week for food — a difference of about $2,000 a year. Statewide, the estimated amount needed among all households facing hunger in 2023 was around $1.7 billion to meet their annual food needs.

This year’s study, conducted in collaboration with Mass General Brigham, is funded by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) through a U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA) grant. The Greater Boston Food Bank also collaborates with MGB on several research community projects. One of The Greater Boston Food Bank’s 600 partner agencies that supplies free and healthy food to is MGH Revere Food Pantry, a center that serves 80 families each week with nutritious plant-based food that promotes health.

The pantry treats food insecurity and aims to curb nutrition-related chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity. Due to overwhelming demand, MGB is slated to expand its offerings by 50% in the upcoming weeks with support from GBFB.

“Food insecurity is closely linked to cardiometabolic diseases—including hypertension and diabetes—which are major contributors to premature mortality and reduced life expectancy across the Commonwealth and in the communities served by Mass General Brigham,” said Elsie Taveras, MD, MPH, Chief Community Health & Health Equity Officer at Mass General Brigham.

“Lack of access to healthy, nutritious food continues to disproportionately impact communities of color and other traditionally marginalized groups. With nearly two million adults reporting food insecurity across the state, we are committed to partnering with The Greater Boston Food Bank and others to find equity-based solutions to this public health crisis.”

The research, led by Lauren Fiechtner, MD, MPH, GBFB’s senior health and research advisor and director of pediatric nutrition at Mass General for Children, was developed with input from state, community, and healthcare partners, including GBFB’s Health and Research Advisory Council. From November 2023 to March 2024, GBFB conducted an online survey of more than 3,000 adults in Massachusetts, collecting data from every income, gender, race/ethnicity, age, education, and region to ensure representation of historically unheard voices.

“The fact that 1 in 3 people remain food insecure is an unacceptable day to day reality for far too many in our state, one of the wealthiest in the nation,” said Catherine D’Amato, president & CEO of GBFB. “Food insecurity is political, economic, and personal. Massachusetts may be doing all the right things, but without proper funding, benefits like SNAP and WIC are simply not enough to keep families fed, and many of them continue to make significant tradeoffs to put food on the table. As a state, we can fix this. We have the power to solve hunger here in Massachusetts.”

Of the 3,000 individuals who participated in the study, those who experienced food insecurity reported having to choose between paying for food or paying for utilities (69%), transportation (69%), mortgage or rent (62%), medical care (55%) or school tuition (39%).

GBFB provides several public policy recommendations to challenge disparities and the current state of food insecurity in Massachusetts which are available in the report. ◊