Millions of Hungry Americans Experiencing Food Insecurity

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In 2008, a total of 17 million households in the United States, or 14.6 percent, went hungry and experienced food insecurity at times throughout the year. This represents an increase from 13 million households in 2007 and is the highest level seen since nationally representative food security surveys were first started in 1995.

Food insecurity is the inability of a family to adequately feed itself. The annual Household Food Security in the United States report, which is issued by the US Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, concluded that 49 million Americans, including 17 million children, experienced food insecurity in 2008. The 14.6 percent of households affected reflect 8.9 percent of families with low food security and 5.7 with very low food security. This latter figure represents about 6.7 million households and is up from 4.7 million in 2007.

Mississippi tops the list of states with the highest level of food insecurity at 17.4 percent. Texas comes in second, with a food insecurity rate of 16.3 percent; Arkansas, 15.9 percent, Georgia, 14.2 percent; and New Mexico, 14.1 percent.

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Parents typically try to provide their children with food before feeding themselves. However, the report found that both children and adults experienced very low food security in 506,000 households (representing 1.3% of households with children) in 2008, an increase from 323,000 households in 2007.

Although the Department of Agriculture offers nutrition assistance programs, they cannot meet all the needs presented by the growing number of hungry families. A key part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 is a significant increase in nutrition assistance benefits for the 36.5 million people who participate in the USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly called the Food Stamp Program.

Another opportunity to ensure children are properly fed is through Child Nutrition Reauthorization, which Congress will begin to debate soon. The School Breakfast Program and the National School Lunch Program are permanently authorized, but other child nutrition programs that affect school nutrition operators must be reauthorized every five years. These include the Summer Food Service Program, the Child and Adult Care Food Program, State Administrative Expenses, the Special Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), and other smaller programs.

Currently, the National School Lunch program serves 31 million children each school day. Nearly 50 percent of all infants in the United States participate in WIC. These and other food programs help those who are experiencing food insecurity, but the number of individuals and families who are going hungry and who need food assistance continues to grow. Access to the full Household Food Security report is available at www.ers.usda.gov/features/householdfoodsecurity/.

SOURCES:
School Nutrition Association
US Department of Agriculture, Household Food Security report
This page is updated on May 18.

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