Households Participating in CalFresh, by Race/Ethnicity (California Only)

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Learn More About Food Security

Measures of Food Security on provides the following indicators related to food security:
Food Security
Family Income and Poverty
Student Demographics
Childhood Adversity and Resilience
Why This Topic Is Important
In California and the U.S., around 1 in 7 children live in households without the resources for consistent, dependable access to enough food for all household members to enjoy active, healthy lives (1). Compared with food-secure children, children experiencing food insecurity are at higher risk for a host of health problems, including developmental, behavioral, and mental health issues, as well as acute and chronic medical conditions (2, 3). Food insecurity in children also is linked to higher rates of school absenteeism and emergency department use, and lower access to health care (3). Among pregnant women, food insecurity is associated with negative physical and mental health outcomes, as well as pregnancy complications (2). Households with children (particularly young children under age 6), low-income and single-parent households, and households of color are disproportionately affected by food insecurity (3, 4).

Food assistance programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or CalFresh in California) and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) provide a safety net to help ensure that low-income children, expectant mothers, and families get adequate nutrition. These programs have been shown to alleviate poverty, reduce adverse birth outcomes, and improve children's health in general (2, 3).
For more information, see’s Research & Links section. Also see’s Student Demographics topic, which includes information about students eligible to receive free or reduced price school meals, and other topics under Family Economics.

Sources for this narrative:

1.  As cited on, Children living in food insecure households. (2021). Feeding America.

2.  Food Research and Action Center. (2019). WIC is a critical economic, nutrition, and health support for children and families. Retrieved from:

3.  Peltz, A., & Garg, A. (2019). Food insecurity and health care use. Pediatrics, 144(4), e20190347. Retrieved from:

4.  Coleman-Jensen, A., et al. (2021). Household food security in the United States in 2020. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service. Retrieved from:
How Children Are Faring
According to 2019 estimates, 14% of California children ages 0-17 (more than 1.2 million) lived in households unable to provide adequate food for all household members. At the local level, the share of children living in food insecure households ranged from less than 7% to more than 24% across counties and congressional districts.

The CalFresh (Food Stamps) supplemental nutrition program served more than 4.6 million Californians, including more than 1.8 million California children, in July 2020. The number of children participating in CalFresh has declined overall since 2014, when more than 2.2 million children were served.

In January 2020, 513,479 California families redeemed Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program healthy food vouchers, down from 585,256 in 2019.
Policy Implications
Food insecurity—limited or uncertain access to adequate food—is a major public health problem in California and the U.S., affecting millions of children and families (1). The adverse effects of food insecurity on children can be particularly harmful, impacting their cognitive development, physical and mental health, and school performance (1, 2). Poverty and food insecurity disproportionately affect families of color, and while improvements have been made to state and federal safety net programs, these systems are fragmented and additional progress is needed to distribute services equitably (2, 3). Policymakers can work to ameliorate poverty, address economic and system inequities, preserve and strengthen food assistance programs, and expand access to nutritious, affordable foods in low-income communities.

Food and nutrition assistance programs address food insecurity by helping low-income children and families access nutritious and affordable meals. However, many eligible families are not receiving this assistance (3, 4, 5). For example, only 61% of eligible California families participate in the WIC Program (4).

Policy and program options that could improve food security include:
  • Continuing to address under-enrollment in food assistance programs—such as WIC and CalFresh (food stamps)—by improving public awareness of these programs, and increasing integration and linkages between nutrition, health care, and other safety net supports in order to streamline enrollment and service delivery (3, 4, 5)
  • Maintaining and strengthening recent state and federal legislation to provide healthy meals to low-income children in child care, ensuring that this assistance reaches children with the greatest needs; for example, reducing administrative burden and providing adequate training and support to increase provider participation in the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), especially in underserved areas (6, 7)
  • Ensuring that California's Free School Meals for All Act of 2021 is implemented effectively at the local level so that all K-12 students receive healthy school meals (8)
  • Continuing to promote robust nutrition programs for low-income children when school is out or when schools are closed due to emergencies; as part of this, ensuring that families are aware of such programs and that meals are provided in safe and welcoming environments, especially for immigrant families (8)
  • Supporting local public-private collaborations, food councils, and other community initiatives and innovations that promote access to sustainable, affordable, and nutritious food for vulnerable families (9, 10)
  • Continuing to strengthen and streamline state policies aimed at reducing economic inequities, such as the CalWORKs program and the California Earned Income Tax Credit, and improving access to safety net programs for groups experiencing the highest poverty levels, including undocumented immigrants (3)
  • Supporting action at the federal level to reduce inequities in child food security through investments in nutrition assistance programs and improved coordination across agencies (11)
For more information, see’s Research & Links section or visit Nourish California and Food Research and Action Center. Also see Policy Implications on under Nutrition and topics related to Family Economics.

Sources for this narrative:

1.  Feeding America. (n.d.). Map the meal gap: Child food insecurity in the United States. Retrieved from:

2.  Odoms-Young, A., & Bruce, M. A. (2018). Examining the impact of structural racism on food insecurity: Implications for addressing racial/ethnic disparities. Family and Community Health, 41(Suppl. 2), S3-S6. Retrieved from:

3.  Danielson, C., et al. (2021). California's future: Safety net. Public Policy Institute of California. Retrieved from:

4.  California WIC Association. (2021). Linking WIC for health equity: Expanding access to WIC through horizontal integration. Retrieved from:

5.  Danielson, C., et al. (2020). The importance of CalFresh and CalWORKs in children's early years. Public Policy Institute of California. Retrieved from:

6.  Marshall, S. (2020). CACFP is moving from CDE to CDSS: Let's make sure we don't get lost in transition. CACFP Roundtable. Retrieved from:

7.  Cannon, M. (2021). State funding for child care meals finally realized. Nourish California. Retrieved from:

8.  Free School Meals for All Act of 2021, Cal. S. B. 364 (2021-2022). Retrieved from:

9.  PolicyLink. (n.d.). Equitable food systems resource guide. Retrieved from:

10.  University of California Global Food Initiative. (2020). Addressing food insecurity for families and individuals in California experiencing housing insecurity. Retrieved from:

11.  Food Research and Action Center. (n.d.). Action center. Retrieved from:
Websites with Related Information
Key Reports and Research
County/Regional Reports
More Data Sources For Food Security