Research & Reports

Why do military families experience food insecurity?

February 14, 2023

Food insecurity rates among our military community are unsettling. For years, MFAN has responded: standing in the gap with immediate on the ground assistance and conducting research to better understand what leads a service member or veteran and their family to the point of food insecurity.


With support from the Bob Woodruff Foundation and Wounded Warrior Project, we created a first-of-its-kind study, “Causal Factors of Military and Veteran Family Food Insecurity.” From 2020 to 2021, MFAN’s doctoral-level researchers conducted in-depth, qualitative interviews with more than 300 food insecure military families in Texas and the Tidewater region of Virginia.


From this process, we identified common themes that negatively impact respondents’ ability to put food on the table. These results come directly from the experiences of active duty service members, veterans, and their families in Texas and Tidewater, Virginia.


Causal Factors: Military and Veteran family Food Insecurity

  1. Spousal Unemployment: Families mentioned their military spouse is unemployed or underemployed. These families struggled to afford meat and produce but let their children eat balanced meals first.
  2. Growing Families: Families who recently had a child faced challenges in budgeting to buy food and many needed to prioritize paying bills over buying balanced meals.
  3. Recent Permanent Change of Station: These families struggled to make ends meet after a move. Some faced delays in permanent change of station (PCS) reimbursement through the military and many could not put balanced food on the table after a spouse was unemployed following a move.
  4. Unexpected Expenses: Whether facing a vehicle repair or feeding children at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, these families were pushed into food insecurity because of costs they could not have predicted.
  5. External Systems Shock: Specific to Texas, families on the edge of food insecurity faced an uncharacteristic natural disaster in their area (i.e., ice storm) that disrupted their typical balance and shifted them into food insecurity. 
  6. Rising Cost of Living: Military pay has not risen to meet growing inflation, carrying military families specifically in the Tidewater, Virginia area into food insecurity. 

    By recognizing these contributing factors, we can all work to enhance support for military families facing food insecurity. MFAN will continue to inform policy makers, armed forces leadership, fellow military-connected nonprofits, and the general public to raise awareness and inspire action that brings urgently-needed solutions.

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    About the Author

    Derek Doyle

    Director of Public Affairs
    Derek leads the creation and implementation of MFAN’s external-facing communication strategies – including content creation, media relat…
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