An increasing number of people in Massachusetts struggle to afford enough food to eat. More than 33 percent of households in the state faced food insecurity in 2023 according to a new study by The Greater Boston Food Bank (GBFB) and Mass General Brigham.

“That’s 33 percent of our neighbors, of our families, of people that live in our state that are experiencing hardship,” said Catherine D’Amato, president and CEO of GBFB.

This is the fourth year GBFB has conducted the study. Although this year’s study showed a slight increase from 2022, D’Amato said the overall percentage of Massachusetts residents facing food insecurity has remained the same. For the first time, the study looked at college students and found that more than 40 percent reported food insecurity.

“COVID is over. Hunger is not over,” said D’Amato.

Food insecurity is when people can’t access safe and nutritious food. High inflation and rising food costs are the leading causes of food insecurity in Massachusetts.

Although hunger exists across the state, Western Massachusetts and the Boston area are seeing the highest levels of food insecurity. Boston is one of the most expensive rental markets in the country.

A map of Massachusetts shows countries with different colors and percentages. The darkest colors are Hampden and Bristol County, with 48%.
A new report from Greater Boston Food Bank found the highest rates of food insecurity in Western Massachusetts and the Boston area.
Courtesy of Greater Boston Food Bank

“Food insecurity, wages and economic mobility are very tied together in terms of one’s ability to afford to live in a particular place, afford a particular rent, go to the grocery store,” said D’Amato. More people are relying on programs like SNAP and food pantries. But those have not been adequate to reduce the issue.

Families surveyed by GBFB reported that an extra two thousand dollars a year would allow their family to have enough to eat.

Dr. Lauren Fiechtner, a pediatrician and researcher at Mass General Hospital for Children and the senior health and research advisor at the Greater Boston Food Bank, said the report found racial disparities.

The study found a high prevalence of food insecurity among American Indian, Alaska Native, Hispanic and Black populations in Massachusetts as well as among those who identify as LGBTQ+.

“This is largely due to systemic discrimination and socio-economic opportunities that lead to these inequities we see in food insecurity,” said Fiechtner.

About 74 percent of children depend on school programs, like universal free school meals, to meet their nutritional needs. As summer approaches, D’Amato said there will be more children needing food assistance. She noted the Growing Healthy Futures program in the summer, which raises money to make sure kids can have food when school is out.

D’Amato said this is a problem that Massachusetts can solve.

“You fix it with sustainable policies that support families, looking at wages and ensuring that workers have adequate resources to be productive and making a contribution, either in money, in time or in advocacy.”