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3-Food: Hunger in the U.S. - despite GE crops

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-------------------------------- GENET-news --------------------------------

TITLE:  Hunger in the U.S.
SOURCE: Food Research and Action Center, USA
DATE:   downloaded June 2003

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Hunger in the U.S.

One of the most disturbing and extraordinary aspects of life in this very
wealthy country is the persistence of hunger. The U.S. Department of
Agriculture (USDA) reports, based on a national U.S. Census Bureau survey
of households representative of the U.S. population, that in 2000 10.5
percent of all U.S. households, representing 20 million adults and 13
million children, were "food insecure" because of lack of resources. Of
the 11 million households that were food insecure, 3.3 million suffered
from food insecurity that was so severe that USDA's very conservative
measure classified them as "hungry." 5.6 million adults and 2.7 million
children lived in these hungry households.

Definitions: What Do Hunger and Food Insecurity Mean in the United States?

Very simply, hunger is defined as the uneasy or painful sensation caused
by lack of food. When "hunger in America" is discussed, people are
referring to the recurrent and involuntary lack of access to sufficient
food due to poverty or constrained resources, which can lead to
malnutrition over time. In some developing nations where famine is
widespread, hunger manifests itself as severe and very visible clinical
malnutrition. In the United States hunger manifests itself, generally, in
a less severe form. This is in part because established programs help to
provide a safety net for many low-income families. While starvation
seldom occurs in this country, children and adults do go hungry and
chronic mild undernutrition does occur when financial resources are low.
The mental and physical changes that accompany inadequate food intakes
can have harmful effects on learning, development, productivity, physical
and psychological health, and family life.

New phrases have emerged over the last two decades to describe the
widespread but less severe hunger problems we typically face in the
United States. Food security is a term used to describe what our nation
should be seeking for all its people -- assured access at all times to
enough food for an active, healthy life, with no need for recourse to
emergency food sources or other extraordinary coping behaviors to meet
basic food needs. In a nation as affluent as ours this is a readily
achievable goal. Food insecurity refers to the lack of access to enough
food to fully meet basic needs at all times due to lack of financial
resources. There are different levels of food insecurity.

The Census Bureau's Hunger Survey

In the 1980s, due to a combination of cuts in public welfare programs and
a recession, many communities across the country experienced an enormous
increase in demand for emergency food, often among families with
children. Community leaders wanted to document this growing problem so
that policymakers would recognize its severity and do something about the
hunger they were seeing. Out of this expressed need developed FRAC's
Community Childhood Hunger Identification Project (CCHIP), the first
nationwide survey measuring the extent of hunger among families with
children, the results of which were released in 1991 and 1995. At the
same time that CCHIP was being conducted, FRAC worked with a broad
coalition of national organizations to get national nutrition monitoring
legislation through Congress - legislation that required the federal
government, among other things, to develop a measure of food
insufficiency that could be added to the national nutrition monitoring
system. Using CCHIP's methodology as a foundation, the USDA and the
Census Bureau developed a food security module to be included in the
Current Population Survey (CPS).

Since 1995 the U.S. Census Bureau has conducted an annual survey of food
security among a nationally representative sample of people living in the
U.S. using the food security module in the CPS. The questions asked are
about anxiety that the household budget is inadequate to buy enough food;
inadequacy in the quantity or quality of food eaten by adults and
children in the household; and instances of reduced food intake or
consequences of reduced food intake for adults and for children.
Households are classified as food secure, food insecure, or food insecure
with hunger according to the answers to these questions. The survey
(called the"food security module") is widely regarded as a reliable
indicator of household well-being and will serve as the basis for
evaluating our nation's progress in reducing food insecurity -- one of
the Surgeon General's health objectives for the nation for the year 2010.
The goal is to increase food security from 88 percent of all US
households (1995) to 94 percent.

Households that are classified as hungry are those in which adults have
decreased the quality and quantity of food they consume because of lack
of money to the point where they are quite likely to be hungry on a
frequent basis, or in which children's intake has been reduced due to
lack of family financial resources, to the point that children are likely
to be hungry on a regular basis and adults' food intake is severely reduced.

Even when hunger is not present, adults in households determined to be
food insecure by the survey are so limited in resources to buy food that
they are running out of food, or reducing the quality of food their
family eats, or feeding their children unbalanced diets, or skipping
meals so their children can eat, in order to adjust to the economic
problems that threaten the adequacy of their family's diet.

Who Is Hungry in America?

According to the results of the Census Bureau survey, those at greatest
risk of being hungry or on the edge of hunger (i.e., food insecure) live
in households that are: headed by a single woman; Hispanic or Black; or
with incomes below the poverty line. Overall, households with children
experience food insecurity at more than double the rate for households
without children. Geographically, food insecurity is more common in
central city households. The survey data also show that households are
more likely to be hungry or food insecure if they live in states in the
West and South.

What Do Other Surveys Report?

Other evidence that many people are hungry in America comes from the
widespread reports of increases in the number of households seeking
"emergency food" at emergency feeding programs, food pantries and soup

In a recent national survey of emergency feeding programs (Hunger in
America 2001), America's Second Harvest found that their food bank
network of emergency food providers served 23 million people in a year (9
percent more than were served in 1997), and more than 9 million of those
served were children. Nearly two-thirds of adult emergency food
recipients were women, and more than one in five were elderly.

Among all America's Second Harvest emergency food recipients, 71 percent
were food insecure. This percentage increased to 76 percent among
households with children.

Not surprisingly, many reported having to make choices between paying for
food and paying for other necessities, such as utilities, housing, or
medical care. Yet, only 30 percent of emergency food recipients
participated in the Food Stamp Program, although almost three-fourths
were income-eligible. Of those emergency food clients not enrolled in the
Food Stamp Program, 31.5 percent believed that they were not income
eligible, yet one in five of those who believed they were not eligible
actually were. Of those who had not applied, 37 percent believed they
were not eligible, 34 percent found the program too difficult to apply
for, and 7 percent didn't apply because of the stigma they felt would be
associated with program participation.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors collects data each year on requests for
emergency assistance in some of the nation's major cities. During the
period from November 2000 to November 2001, requests for emergency food
assistance increased by an average of 23 percent. Only one third of the
cities surveyed reported that they were able to provide an adequate
quantity of food. Eighty-five percent of the cities reported that
emergency food assistance facilities have had to decrease the quantity of
food provided and/ or the number of times families or individuals can
come to get food. Across surveyed cities, 54 percent of those requesting
emergency assistance were either children or their parents. The average
increase in the number of families with children requesting emergency
food was 19 percent. Requests by the elderly increased by 18 percent.

What Are the Implications of High Hunger Rates?

The ability to obtain enough food for an active, healthy life is the most
basic of human needs. Food insecure households cannot achieve this
fundamental element of well-being. They are the ones in our country must
likely to be hungry, undernourished, and in poor health, and the ones
most in need of assistance. A high number of food insecure households in
a nation with our economic plenty means that the fruits of our economy,
and the benefits of public and private programs for needy people, are not
yet reaching millions of low-income people who are at great risk.


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