16.6 million U.S children were underfed in 2011


Nearly 15 percent of U.S. households do not make enough money to adequately feed their families. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

“These numbers confirm that a humanitarian crisis looms within our own borders that can no longer be ignored,” notes Billy Shore, founder and CEO of Share Our Strength, in a statement today.

“The crisis of childhood hunger in particular is putting at risk a generation of our youngest Americans, our national education goals and our economic competitiveness,” adds Shore, whose Washington-based organization works to end childhood hunger in America.

The hopeful news — if “hope” is the right word — is that food insecurity rates for children and Americans overall remained virtually unchanged from 2010 statistics, despite fears that U.S. poverty could rise to levels not seen since the 1960s. Nearly 15 percent of U.S. households were food insecure in 2011 (meaning they “had difficulty at some time during the year providing enough food for all their members due to a lack of resources,” according to the report). In 2010, the percentage of food-insecure households stood at 14.5.

“While the majority of Americans have consistent, dependable access to nutritious food, food insecurity . . . continues to be a challenge among certain low income households at times during the year,” Kevin Concannon, the under secretary of USDA Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services, notes in a statement.

“USDA’s nutrition assistance programs connect these households with access to healthy food and nutrition education, providing a vital safety net for low income households working their way to self-sufficiency as the economy continues to recover,” Concannon adds.

The Economic Research Service supports Concannon’s claim. According to the service’s report, 57 percent of “food-insecure households in the survey reported that in the previous month, they had participated in one or more of the three largest federal food and nutrition assistance programs,” including the school lunch program and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (once known as the “food stamps” program).

SNAP benefits have recently come under scrutiny from Republicans who would like, as part of the Farm Bill, to cut the program and/or tighten eligibility.

For Share Our Strength’s Shore, however, the time for political posturing has passed.

“The fact that childhood hunger numbers, while at a record high, remained fairly steady even as poverty numbers continue to worsen shows the effectiveness of federal nutrition programs like school breakfast, SNAP and after-school meals,” he says.

“Still, these programs only reach a fraction of eligible children. While families continue to feel the sting of the current economy, these numbers should serve as a wake-up call for the nation’s leaders, who have the power to ensure that more children receive the food they need to grow up healthy, do well in school and keep America competitive.”

Further reading:

* Household Food Security in the United States 2011 [full report, PDF]

* Household Food Security in the United States 2011 [executive summary, PDF]

Tim Carman serves as the full-time writer for the Post's Food section and as the $20 Diner for the Weekend section, a double duty that requires he ingest more calories than a draft horse.

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