Fact sheet: Hunger in Oklahoma

Photo by m. / CC BY-NC 2.0
Photo by m. / CC BY-NC 2.0

The holiday season is a time when many of use will share feasts with our loved ones. Yet hundreds of thousands of Oklahoma still don’t always know where their next meal will come from. Not having enough to eat impacts Oklahomans of all ages, but it especially affects children. In addition, thousands of Oklahomans rely on the food security safety net, including SNAP, WIC, school meals, and other programs. 

About 654,640 Oklahomans are food-insecure.

This 2013 statistic means that a large number of Oklahomans don’t have consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy lifestyle. Oklahomans are more likely to be food-insecure than most Americans. Our state outpaces the national average for both low food security and very low food security.

food insecure

This has serious implications for health in Oklahoma. A number of chronic diseases and health conditions tied to food insecurity are more prevalent in Oklahoma, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol, and being overweight or obese — all diseases or conditions that contribute to Oklahoma’s dismal health rankings. Governor Fallin has acknowledged that the state’s poor health drives employers away from the state. At the same time, people who are food insecure spend more — sometimes substantially more — on health care. In short, food insecurity harms the health and financial security of our state.[pullquote]”Not having enough to eat affects children’s physical and neurological development, can trigger behavioral and mental health issues, and detracts from their ability to learn in school.”[/pullquote]

  National Ranking Prevalence in Oklahoma
Diabetes 11th 11.0%
Cardiovascular Disease 6th 2.9%
High Cholesterol 7th 41.2%
Overweight or Obese 6th 67.9%

All health statistics for adults in 2013; Source: Kaiser Family Foundation

Food insecurity is particularly devastating to children. Not having enough to eat affects children’s physical and neurological development, can trigger behavioral and mental health issues, and detracts from their ability to learn in school. Although free and reduced-price school meals can help families get by, 242,990 children in Oklahoma were food insecure in 2013. More than 1 in 4 Oklahoma children rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) for additional food. However, SNAP is no guarantee of having enough to eat: the average SNAP benefit amounts to less than $1.40 per meal. Although SNAP is a vital part of the food security safety net, many Oklahoma families still struggle to simply get by even with its assistance.


Oklahoma’s food security safety net, including SNAP, is extremely important for helping Oklahomans access nutritious foods. Even as our food banks report giving away record amounts of food, we need to remember that charity can’t replace the safety net. In this time of tight budgets and tighter belts, state and federal programs, including SNAP, WIC, school meals, and others, need to be protected. Seniors, veterans and military families, and thousands of Oklahoma children and families are counting on us.

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Carly Putnam joined OK Policy in 2013. As Policy Director, she supervises policy research and strategy. She previously worked as an OK Policy intern, and she was OK Policy's health care policy analyst through July 2020. She graduated from the University of Tulsa in 2013. As a student, she was a participant in the National Education for Women (N.E.W.) Leadership Institute and interned with Planned Parenthood. Carly is a graduate of the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits Nonprofit Management Certification; the Oklahoma Developmental Disabilities Council’s Partners in Policymaking; The Mine, a social entrepreneurship fellowship in Tulsa; and Leadership Tulsa Class 62. She currently serves on the boards of Restore Hope Ministries and The Arc of Oklahoma. In her free time, she enjoys reading, cooking, and doing battle with her hundred year-old house.

3 thoughts on “Fact sheet: Hunger in Oklahoma

  1. Food is not a privilege. It is a basic human right. Without food the cycle of poverty continues. These numbers are very disturbing and must be addressed. In this country we waste an incredible amount of food, and yet children/people go hungry. Someone explain Please.

  2. Food is a right and a human necessity that allows children to grow and learn with fear of tomorrow. We should allow Oklahoma children the ability to wake up each day and have food to nourish their bodies and their brains.

    We should all make it happen, together for everyone!

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