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Hunger still bites in land of plenty

Some 36.2 million Americans struggle to get enough food to eat and one-third of them go hungry from time to time, according to a government survey taken before this year’s economic downturn.

Anti-hunger groups said hunger has worsened since the government’s survey of 45,600 households at the end of 2007. They want Congress to increase food stamp benefits, at least temporarily, in an economic stimulus package.

Overall, 11.1 per cent of U. S. households, or 36.2 million people, were food insecure during 2007, up from 10.9 per cent, or 35.5 million people in 2006, the Agriculture Department said.

Food insecurity is defined as having difficulty obtaining enough food to meet basic nutritional needs.

USDA said 4.1 per cent of households, or 11.9 million people – classified as “very low food security” – had to cut back on meals or skip them occasionally. The rate has climbed steadily for a decade from 3.7 per cent and 3.8 million people in 1998.

“That’s where the bigger growth is coming from,” said Jim Weill of the Food Research and Action Center. He said U. S. poverty data and other reports show a rising portion of people among the worst-off Americans.

At latest count, a near-record 29.5 million Americans received food stamps.

Stacy Dean of the Center on the Budget, said food stamp enrolment increased by two million people in the first eight months of this year.

“If the data we are reviewing today reflected food insecurity data from the last 12 months, it would be even more shocking,” said Vicki Escarra of Feeding America, a network of 200 food banks.

USDA said the typical “food secure” American household spent 35 per cent more on food than households with problems acquiring enough food. Food-insecure households compensate by eating less varied diets, enrolling in the food stamp program or turning to charities.

“On average, households classified as having very low food security experienced the condition in seven months of the year, for a few days in each of those months,” said USDA.

Food insecurity rates were highest in the South, among minority groups, among poor people and in households headed by a single woman with children.

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