Opportunities to Improve Food Equity & Access (2023)


With One-Third of State Households Experiencing Hunger, Cost of Living and Inflation Continue to Drive Record Need,
According to The Greater Boston Food Bank’s Third Annual Report on the State of Food Insecurity in Massachusetts

Third annual statewide study, in collaboration with Mass General Brigham, confirms sustained hunger in Massachusetts.
Child hunger rates of over 50% among Hispanic and LGBTQ+ households amidst historic cost of food and conclusion of pandemic benefits.

BOSTON – (May 30,2023)– While the public health emergency of the pandemic has come to an end, the public health crisis of hunger in Massachusetts persists. The Greater Boston Food Bank (GBFB), the largest hunger-relief organization in New England, collaborated with Mass General Brigham’s Center for Healthy Weight and Nutrition Equity to release its third annual statewide study, Opportunities to Improve Food Equity and Access in Massachusetts: Ending Hunger – Together.

Among other key findings, the study estimates that 1 in 3 Massachusetts adults continued to struggle with food insecurity in 2022, with approximately 1.8 million adults reporting household food insecurity the same as in 2021. At the time this survey was conducted between November 2022 and January 2023, respondents were asked about their experiences with food insecurity during the previous year. Since that period, its estimated the rates are conservative given the national COVID-19 Public Health Emergency has ended, which also concluded extra benefits through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and reduced the administrative burden of re-enrolling in the program. On the horizon, the current debt ceiling negotiations include additional cuts to SNAP and cash assistance which further threaten the food assistance landscape.

This year’s study, funded by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) through a U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA) grant, was led by Lauren Fiechtner, MD, MPH, GBFB’s Senior Health and Research Advisor and Director of Pediatric Nutrition at Mass General Hospital for Children and developed and adapted with input from state, community and healthcare partners statewide, including GBFB’s Health and Research Advisory Council.

“The food bank is dedicated to research and using what is learned to inform changes and connections to the healthcare system,” said Fiechtner. “It’s been a wonderful collaboration with Mass General Brigham and exciting to see the data being used in real time to create food interventions to improve the health of the people of the Commonwealth. As a pediatrician, it is especially alarming to see the child food insecurity rate. We have a real need to address this in all settings including healthcare, schools and early education settings.”

“In this report, The Greater Boston Food Bank and its partners are shining a light on the large numbers of Massachusetts residents who continue to suffer from inconsistent and inequitable access to food.” said Massachusetts Governor Maura Healey. “Food insecurity disproportionately harms our most valuable neighbors–children, seniors, communities of color and low-income families. Our administration is committed to being strong partners in the work to end hunger and its roots causes.”

GBFB has been conducting annual research throughout the pandemic to examine the prevalence of food insecurity and the barriers to accessing food assistance programs. This is important to GBFB and our hunger-relief partners so that we are able to make data-driven, community-based investments and advance priorities that will have a real impact on the lives of our most vulnerable neighbors.

The report includes new data around:

  • Food insecurity among households with children:
    • 36 percent of Massachusetts households experienced child-level food insecurity, meaning a child was hungry, skipped a meal, or did not eat for a whole day because there wasn’t enough money for food, surpassing the overall statewide household food insecurity average
    • Over half of Hispanic (53 percent) and LGBTQ+ (57 percent) households (in which the adult completing the survey identified as such) faced child-level food insecurity, alongside 42 percent of Black households
    • Use of child nutrition programs among households with children experiencing food insecurity rose significantly: Use of the Women, Infants, & Children Nutrition Program (WIC) rose to 52 percent, and School/Summer Meal participation rose to 73 percent.
  • Coping strategies households with food insecurity use to get enough food:
    • 30 percent watered down food or infant formula, while 48 percent of those on WIC did the same
    • 85 percent of food-insecure households bought the cheapest food available
    • Food-insecure households had to choose between paying for food and paying for medical care, housing, utilities and transportation
  • Correlation of food insecurity and chronic medical conditions, and experiences with food insecurity screenings in healthcare settings:
    • Food-insecure adults surveyed reported the following rates of chronic medical conditions in their households: diabetes: 25 percent, hypertension: 37 percent, malnutrition: 3 percent, heart disease/stroke: 11 percent, food allergy: 19 percent, obesity: 33 percent.
    • Fortunately, among those who were screened for food insecurity by their doctor, 78% reported they were offered food resources and 83% said they used the resources they were provided.

Through the report, GBFB aims to increase awareness and enrollment in food assistance programs to meet an elevated need; address inequities in food access, providing culturally responsive solutions to those facing food insecurity; and improve experiences of recipients who are accessing hunger-relief and federal nutrition programs.

“While unsurprising, the third installment of this annual study paints a bleak, persistent picture of food insecurity across Massachusetts,” said Catherine D’Amato, President & CEO of The Greater Boston Food Bank. “Even with the Healey administration’s essential SNAP offramps, tireless work from our distribution partners to feed their communities, and national attention to the issue from last year’s White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health, there is still so much more to be done to meet the need. It must be a statewide priority to create and adequately support a just food system that ensures the basic human right to food.”

Because this data was collected for the 2022 calendar year, the study may provide conservative estimates around the current state of food insecurity, considering the ongoing impact of high inflation and the end of pandemic SNAP emergency allotments in March 2023. Despite the state’s support in providing a supplemental glide path for SNAP recipients losing their maximum benefits for three months, those extra payments come to an end on June 2nd. When survey respondents were asked about the SNAP benefits increase during the pandemic, 87% worried about being able to afford enough food if the SNAP increase ended.

The public health emergency of COVID-19 came to an end on May 11, but its economic repercussions are far from over, particularly for those who were already struggling to make ends meet.

“With food insecurity, we must recognize the injustice and inequity rooted in the public health emergency, since Black and Hispanic households, children, LGBTQ+ communities, and those with chronic medical conditions suffer the consequences,” said Elsie Taveras, MD, MPH, Chief Community Health & Health Equity Officer at Mass General Brigham. “The deep-rooted disparities in food insecurity highlighted in this report are not a matter of personal choices, but a reflection of the structural and systemic barriers that prevent our most vulnerable residents from accessing nutritious, affordable, and consistent food sources. It is more important than ever for healthcare to partner with and support hunger-relief organizations like The Greater Boston Food Bank, their food bank coalition partners across the state, and their 1,000+ local food distribution partners that provide culturally responsive solutions to widespread hunger.”

Other Key Findings

Food Insecurity Data by Identity

Key takeaways:

  • Adults of color continue to face outsized levels of food insecurity
  • 61 percent of Hispanic households faced food insecurity
  • 50 percent of Black households faced food insecurity
  • Overall food insecurity is still nearly 70% higher than before the pandemic.

Data by household identity:

  • Overall – 33 percent
  • Black – 50 percent
  • Hispanic – 61 percent
  • Asian – 29 percent
  • LGBTQ+ – 45 percent
  • White – 28 percent
Child-Level Food Insecurity

Child-level food insecurity by race/ethnicity/sexual orientation of the head of household:

  • Overall – 36 percent
  • Black – 42 percent
  • Hispanic – 53 percent
  • Asian – 25 percent
  • White – 33 percent
  • LGBTQ+ – 57 percent
Tradeoffs and Coping mechanisms around food insecurity

Food-insecure households had to choose between paying for food and paying for:

  • Medical care (61 percent)
  • Utilities (70 percent)
  • Mortgage or rent (64 percent)
  • Transportation (68 percent)
  • School or tuition (44 percent)

Households facing food insecurity used the following strategies to get enough food:

  • Got help from family or friends (61 percent)
  • Sold or pawned personal property (41 percent)
  • Bought the cheapest food available (85 percent)
  • Watered down food or infant formula (30 percent)
  • 48 percent of those receiving WIC benefits watered down food or infant formula
Intersectionality of Food Insecurity with Chronic Medical Conditions
  • Participants experiencing food insecurity reported several chronic medical conditions with many respondents reporting multiple chronic conditions including hypertension (37%), obesity (33%), diabetes (25%), food allergy (19%) and heart disease/stroke (11%).
  • Anxiety was nearly double among populations using SNAP (63 percent), food pantries (60 percent) or experiencing food insecurity (56 percent), compared to the overall state sample rate of anxiety at 30 percent
  • Similar trends were found in depression in that rates were higher in populations using SNAP (56 percent), food pantries (52 percent) or experiencing food insecurity (50 percent) compared to the overall state sample rate of depression (26 percent)
  • Among those who were screened for food insecurity by their doctor, 78% reported they were offered food resources and 83% said they used the resources they were provided
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP):
  • SNAP enrollment during 2022 according to those experiencing food insecurity was the highest since the start of the pandemic, with 56% of food insecure households reporting being enrolled up from 25% in 2019 prior to the pandemic.
  • 67 percent of food-insecure households who do not use SNAP reported doing so out of a desire to support themselves rather than rely on the program
  • 74 percent of SNAP participants needed to seek additional food assistance
  • 50 percent were unsure if they were eligible for SNAP

SNAP use among Massachusetts adults experiencing food insecurity

2019* 2020* 2021* 2022**
Overall 25% 46% 55% 56%
Black 31% 52% 54% 66%
Hispanic 29% 52% 73% 66%
Asian 19% 36% 36% 38%
White 24% 44% 50% 54%
LGBTQ+ 60% 60%
Households with Children 27% 53% 64% 63%

* Measured using the 6-item USDA Household Food Security Survey Module (Adult level)
** Measured using the 18-item USDA Household Food Security Survey Module (Household level)

The release of this study aligns with the annual Ted Cutler Lecture Series, in which GBFB will honor the legacy of the Boston philanthropist and donor as well as present the findings of the report. The virtual event will take place on June 15 at 12 p.m., featuring a speaking program including Governor Maura Healey, Catherine D’Amato, and leading health, hunger and nutrition advocates and national and local researchers from GBFB’s Health and Research Council.

GBFB provides several policy recommendations to challenge disparities and the current state food insecurity in Massachusetts as a whole, available in this report.

“This data confirms what we already know – hunger is as present as ever in Massachusetts, and urgent, immediate action is needed to relieve it for our neighbors in need,” continued D’Amato. “Our approach must be holistic, addressing the intersecting identities and outside factors that contribute to food insecurity. Even amidst the gravity of these findings, we remain hopeful as we rely on the critical support of donors and volunteers, network of food distribution partners and our larger Massachusetts community.”


From November 2022-January 2023, using an online survey company, GBFB surveyed more than 3,000 MA adults. In previous years this survey measured food insecurity prevalence using a shortened 6-item USDA survey module, and this year we measured using the full 18-item USDA Household Food Security Survey Module (Household level). New this year was also looking at the severity of those who identified as food insecure. So, among the 1 in 3, how many were chronically struggling to put food on the table? The survey included quotas for income, gender, race/ethnicity, age, education and region to ensure we included representation of voices that are historically overlooked. Weighting methods were used to create estimates representative of the Massachusetts population.

About The Greater Boston Food Bank

The Greater Boston Food Bank (GBFB) is the largest hunger-relief organization in New England and among the largest food banks in the country. As the food bank for Eastern Massachusetts, GBFB is feeding people in 190 towns across the region, distributing the equivalent of nearly 90 million meals through a network of 600 dedicated food distribution partners and programs. A member of the national Feeding America network, GBFB’s mission is to end hunger here. The organization remains committed to the belief that access to healthy food is a human right regardless of an individual’s circumstances. Through policy, partnerships, and providing free, nutritious, and culturally responsive food, GBFB is committed to addressing the root causes of food insecurity while promoting racial, gender and economic equity in food access. For more information and to help us help others, visit us at, follow us on Facebook, Twitter (@gr8bosfoodbank) and Instagram, or call us at 617.427.5200.

About Mass General Brigham

Mass General Brigham is an integrated academic healthcare system, uniting great minds in medicine for our communities and the world. Mass General Brigham connects a full continuum of care across a system of academic medical centers, community and specialty hospitals, a health insurance plan, physician networks, community health centers, home care, and long-term care services. Mass General Brigham is a non-profit organization that is committed to patient care, research, teaching, and service to the community. In addition, Mass General Brigham is one of the nation’s leading biomedical research organizations with several Harvard Medical School teaching hospitals. For more information, please visit


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