State Level Food System Indicators

Farm HouseThe food system is complex and multifaceted. It affects human health, the environment, and the economy and is closely linked to our culture and sense of community. Researchers, policy makers and the stakeholders they serve need comprehensive food system indicators that can be readily accessed, updated and compared across locations and over time. In this study, funded by the Healthy Foods, Healthy Lives Institute, a set of state-level food system indicators were developed and data on them were compiled for all 50 states for the period 1997 – 2012. While this work builds upon insights from previous food system indicator studies, it differs from past efforts in that data is collected at regular time intervals for multiple states at a consistent level of geopolitical resolution.

From an initial suite of more than 200 indicators, 63 unique indicators were selected using criteria such as continuity and consistency, accessibility and geographic scope. Indicator identification and compilation occurred January 2010 – January 2011. PLEASE NOTE: Indicators were updated in 2016 using 2012 Census data. These indicators measure structural, economic, environmental, health and social changes in the food system. Data for each of the 63 indicators were compiled primarily from government sources such as the US Census Bureau, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Bureau of Economic Analysis, the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Centers for Disease Control. The two largest sources of data employed in our study are the US Census Bureau’s Economic Census and the USDA’s Census of Agriculture. 

Two indicator summary tools - national maps and state fact sheets - were developed to communicate indicator data and to highlight differences across states and changes over time. Approximately 680 maps, color coded by performance measure, and 204 state and national fact sheets were generated for the project and are provided online, along with their data sources, to encourage hypothesis generation and testing as well as community goal setting and monitoring.

The project team included Robert King and Gigi DiGiacomo from the Department of Applied Economics at the University of Minnesota; Molly Anderson from College of the Atlantic; David Mulla from the Department of Soil, Water & Climate at the University of Minnesota; and David Wallinga from the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. Mary Story from the Division of Epidemiology in the School of Public Health at the University of Minnesota participated in the early phases of the project; Joel Nelson from the Department of Soil, Water & Climate at the University of Minnesota provided leadership and expertise in the design of the indicator maps; Ben Scharadin from the Department of Applied Economics at the University of Minnesota conducted the principal components analysis of the indicator data as part of his M.S. program; and Lisa Jore from The Food Industry Center at the University of Minnesota provided leadership and expertise in the development of the original website for this project.

This team was ably assisted by several undergraduate students. Megan Dehn, Gus Hulin, and Kyle Swenson compiled data. Megan Dehn and Ryan Orton created the indicator maps, and Lumei Zheng formatted and created the state fact sheets. Andrew McBride did much of the coding file uploads for the original project web site.


U.S. Food Map image


1. New Food System Indicators Report which contains updated examples using 2012 data, fact sheets and maps.

2. New 2012 US and State Fact Sheets

3. New 2012 Indicator Maps

4. Updated Indicator Maps for 1997 (four maps), 2002 (two maps), 2007 (14 maps) where re-scaling was necessary or data was updated.

5. Updated State Fact Sheets for 1997, 2002, and 2007 for all states and the US. Some of these fact sheets reflect updated data.

Citations and uses of State Level Food System Indicators

State level food system indicators have been used in food systems classes at Oregon State University and Washington State University, and have been cited in A Framework for Assessing Effects of the Food System, (pg. 38 and pgs. 182-183) a 2015 report released by the Institute of Medicine and National Research Council. 

Report Cover - A Framework for Assessing Effects of the Food System