Appetite for Improvement: Colorado's Hunger Challenge Impacts Health

When Americans hear the word hunger, we often think of famine on far-away continents and commercials asking for support. But many of our neighbors here at home struggle with food insecurity and the negative health outcomes it causes. 

According to the 2021 Colorado Health Access Survey (CHAS), Coloradans in every county report not getting enough to eat. In most southern Colorado counties, more than one in 10 people are food insecure (See Map 1).


Overall, 8.1% of Coloradans reported not eating as much as they thought they should because they could not afford food.1 Even more, 20.8% or two in 10 Coloradans, were concerned about affording nutritious meals.2 Young adults (ages 19-29) overall and younger Black or African American adults (ages 19-44) had the most trouble affording enough food (See Figures 1 and 2).1,2


And that was before soaring inflation and the end of the public health emergency put more Coloradans in the position of not being able to afford food. According to the consumer price index for May 2023, Americans are paying on average 6.7% more for food than they were in May 2022.3 This summer, people who needed and sought help affording food are facing hunger and hard choices after post-pandemic cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) left millions with fewer or no benefits. 

Insecurity Isn’t Always Hunger

Hunger is a physical condition that can happen alongside food insecurity. People who are hungry may have discomfort, pain, weakness, and sometimes illness, because they have gone without food (or with little food) over a period of time.4

For the CHAS, the Colorado Health Institute assesses food insecurity by asking “did you eat less than you thought you should because there wasn't enough money for food (in the last 12 months).” The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) looks for other signs that include: worried that food would run out, food bought did not last, could not afford a balanced meal, cut the size of a meal or skipped a meal, ate less than they felt they should, were hungry but did not eat, lost weight, and did not eat for an entire day.5

Food Insecurity Affects Health

Not getting enough food or enough of the right foods has lasting health effects, and can lead to malnutrition, vitamin deficiencies, chronic diseases, and more. In 2019, Coloradans who experienced food insecurity were 3.2 times more likely to report fair or poor general health, 3.0 times more likely to report fair or poor oral health, and 3.9 times more likely to report poor mental health, compared with their food-secure peers.6

These findings are consistent with other research that connects food insecurity with adverse health outcomes, including birth defects, asthma, poor oral health, depression, diabetes, and hypertension.6,7

Food-insecure children are at least twice as likely to report being in fair or poor health and 1.4 times more likely to have asthma. These kids are at greater risk of anemia, cognitive problems, poor oral health, and behavioral health issues including aggression and anxiety, depression, and suicide.7

Among non-senior adults, food insecurity was associated with poor sleep, diabetes, hypertension, and hyperlipidemia, as well as increased rates of depression and mental health issues.7 One study of mothers with school-aged children who faced very low food insecurity showed them to be 56.2% more likely to have post traumatic stress disorder and 53.1% more likely to have severe depression.8

Older adults who are food insecure are 6% more likely to be diabetic. They are also more likely to have asthma, obesity, high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, and gum disease.5 These seniors were 2.33 times more likely to report fair or poor health compared to their food-secure neighbors.7

To create a healthier Colorado, we must be willing to address social issues like food insecurity. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it has a profound impact on the health of our communities. 

Volunteer Kathy Sabine prepares boxes of food at the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Food Pantry in Denver.

Anyone Can Help

You don’t have to start a food bank to help address food insecurity in your area. Simple steps can go a long way.

  • Donate your time or money to a local food bank. 
  • Check in with your neighbors, especially older adults, parents, and people without reliable transportation. Sometimes all they need is a ride.
  • Take a few minutes to learn more about food insecurity in Colorado.
  • If you are a health care provider, explore these resources for your practice.
  • If you are interested in opening a food pantry or advocating for your local food system, we recommend the Blueprint to End Hunger’s Anti-Hunger Community Toolkit in English or Spanish.

Do you have the food you need?

If you are having trouble finding or affording healthy food for you or your family, you can access resources from the Blueprint to End Hunger

  • Dial 2-1-1 and talk to a navigator.
  • Find resources in your area at or by calling Hunger Free Colorado’s food resource hotline, 855.855.4626 (services available in 150+ languages).
  • Do you have kids ages 0-18? Visit, text FOOD to 304304, or call 866.348.6479 to find summer meal sites in your neighborhood (no ID or registration required).
Colorado Blueprint to End Hunger logo

Go Deeper

Watch our June 2023 Eggheads webinar to learn how Blueprint to End Hunger and local food banks are responding to Colorado’s hunger crisis.


(1) Colorado Health Institute. Colorado Health Access Survey (2021)…

(2) Blueprint to End Hunger Data Dashboard, Food Insecurity, Key Statistic by Year. (2023)

(3) U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Consumer Price Index Summary (June 13, 2023) 

(4) Get the Facts of Food Insecurity and Older Adults (2022) National Council on Aging.

(5) Economic Research Service. Definitions of Food Security (2022) U.S. Department of Agriculture.,may%20result%20from%20food%20insecurity

(6) Gilbert J.C. An Uneven Burden: Food Insecurity in Colorado. (2020) Colorado Health Institute.

(7) Gundersen C. and Ziliak J.P. Food Insecurity and Health Outcomes. (November 2015) Health Affairs (34)11.

(8) Waite T. and Thoelke O. 3 devastating effects of hunger on the body (2021) Feeding America.,member%20with%20high%20blood%20pressure