What Can Food Insecurity Do to Your Diabetes Management?


If you have diabetes, you know how important it is to control your blood-sugar levels and maintain good health by carefully balancing your diet, medications, and physical activity. Regretfully, food insecurity—i.e.,  “the condition of not having access to sufficient food, or food of adequate quality, to meet one’s basic needs”—can pose a direct threat to your diabetes management and may even raise the risk of the disease developing in later life.

What is Food Insecurity?

Food insecurity means not having access to enough food.

Food insecurity can look different for different people and can manifest in different ways, such as:

  • Eating less than you would like or less frequently than you would prefer
  • Skipping meals to save food, resources, or money
  • Having to choose between paying for food or other basic needs like housing or utilities
  • Relying on food stamps or food pantries
  • Utilizing free meal programs
  • Being unable to afford a balanced diet.

A person with food insecurity might not have as many eating options. They may consequently wind up consuming empty, low-nutrient calories.

Can Food Insecurity Lead to Diabetes?

Over time, having fewer food options and eating low-nutrient foods could lead to weight gain, which is a significant risk factor for type 2 diabetes.

Food plays a major role in diabetes wellness. Consequently, it is regrettable that people with diabetes have a higher likelihood of experiencing food insecurity as well as developing it.

A first-of-its-kind study found that young adults at risk for food insecurity had an increased incidence of diabetes 10 years later.

Researchers from Washington State University looked at 4,000 participants in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health. A ten-year follow-up study found that people in the 24-to-32-year-old age group who reported food insecurity had a higher incidence of diabetes than those who did not—based on self-reported blood-sugar testing.

Does Having Diabetes Make You More Likely to Face Food Insecurity?

Your chances of experiencing food insecurity are significantly increased if you already have type 1 or type 2 diabetes.

  • One study found that 16% of adults with diabetes experience food insecurity, compared to just 9% of adults without the disease.
  • The rates of food insecurity are even higher for people with diabetes who take insulin or who have problems with their eyes or kidneys (19% and 22%, respectively).

Shannon Stickler, a registered dietitian in New York, says, “The majority of patients that I see in clinic who are food insecure also have type 2 diabetes. The interplay between these conditions is multifaceted and complex, but addressing one greatly impacts the other.”

Food insecurity can be dangerous if you live with diabetes. The inability to treat low blood sugar levels resulting from insufficient food access can raise the risk of hospital admissions and ER visits.

Additionally, not having reliable access to healthy foods can make managing blood sugar levels more difficult, resulting in stubborn hyperglycemia.

Is Food Insecurity Worse in Rural Areas?

Food insecurity and socioeconomic status are strongly associated with rural areas of the nation.

The percentage of food-insecure children in the United States is higher in rural areas—84 percent of these counties have higher rates of poverty.

More rural counties also experience what is known as “persistent poverty” due to slow economic and job growth. Over 90 percent of counties experiencing long-term poverty, food insecurity, and slow job growth have completely rural populations.

The prevalence of childhood-onset type 2 diabetes and all-cause mortality is significantly higher in rural families experiencing poverty and food insecurity than in higher-income families.

The prevalence of diabetes—particularly type 2 diabetes—is rising in rural areas even though overall global poverty is declining.

Unfortunately, not only is the incidence of diabetes rising across the globe, but more than 80 percent of cases are occurring in low- and middle-income countries.

What is Food Insecurity Like in Latino Culture?

Food insecurity doesn’t affect everyone equally. Not only is food insecurity more common among racial and ethnic groups, but diabetes is as well.

According to a recent study, people of Latino descent who experience food insecurity are 3.3 times more likely than people of other ethnicities to develop type 2 diabetes.

Food insecurity disproportionately affects people of Latino descent.

Nearly 20.8 percent of Latino households experienced food insecurity in 2022, compared to just  9.3 percent of non-Latino whites.

In addition, the prevalence of type 2 diabetes is higher in Latinos (12%) than in non-Latino whites (7%).

Stress and Food Insecurity

Food insecurity can cause excruciating stress, particularly if you already have diabetes.

One study found that people with type 2 diabetes who experienced food insecurity had worsened insulin resistance and blood-sugar control.

Researchers found that individuals who reported food insecurity on a survey had greater levels of the following characteristics than those who reported having a secure diet:

  • Blood sugar
  • Insulin
  • Cortisol
  • Total cholesterol, and
  • High-sensitivity C-reactive protein

The food-insecure group also had higher waist-to-hip ratios, which made managing their diabetes even more challenging.

Research such as this one establishes a clear link between food security and effective diabetes control.

What Can People with Diabetes Do About Food Insecurity?

Food insecurity is a significant issue both domestically and internationally, but there are some ways to combat it, including:

  • Expanding SNAP (supplemental nutrition assistance programs)
  • Eligibility
  • Raising benefit levels, and
  • Lowering the unemployment rate in the US.

Reducing the cost and coverage of diabetes drugs like insulin can also help people with diabetes recoup more of their income for other necessities— like food and housing.

People’s health will improve when they can purchase healthier food and better manage their budgets.

“Addressing the root problem of food insecurity in this country can help alleviate the burdens people with diabetes feel when trying to afford food to feed themselves and their families as well as manage their chronic condition,” says Shannon Stickler.

Reducing food insecurity will not be accomplished quickly. The foundation of a healthy diet that can benefit into adulthood can be laid by making nutrient-dense, mostly plant-based, and healthful foods accessible and affordable, especially for kids.

As we move forward, adopting sustainable eating habits that promote both personal and environmental health will help combat global food insecurity and the rising incidence of diabetes.

This content was made possible by Lilly, a Founding Partner of Beyond Type 1.

Beyond Type 1 maintains editorial control over its content.

WRITTEN BY Christine Fallabel , POSTED 05/03/24, UPDATED 05/16/24

Christine Fallabel has been living with type 1 diabetes since 2000. She's a health and science writer and has been featured in Diabetes Daily Grind, Insulin Nation, Diabetics Doing Things, and is a regular contributor to Diabetes Strong, T1D Exchange and Healthline. She earned her Master of Public Health from Temple University and received her Bachelor of Arts from The University of Delaware. In her spare time, she enjoys hiking with her husband in the mountains of Colorado, tinkering with her DIY Loop insulin pump, drinking strong coffee and reading in front of a cozy fire.