Fewer U.S. households experienced severe hunger last year, but the overall number of homes struggling to keep healthy meals on the table every day stayed the same.
The Agriculture Department's annual "food security" data, released Wednesday, shows the persistence of the recession, as well as the determination of anti-hunger programs, charities and food banks to keep families fed.
"This report underscores the critical role that federal nutrition-assistance programs play in helping struggling American families put food on the table until they can get back on their feet," said Kevin Concannon, undersecretary of food, nutrition and consumer services in the Agriculture Department.
The report found that in the past 12 months, 85.5 percent of households, or about 101 million, were "food secure," meaning they had "access at all times" to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members.
The remaining 14.5 percent, or 17.2 million households, were "food insecure," said Alisha Coleman-Jensen, lead author of the report, "Household Food Security in the United States in 2010."
That overall number of food-insecure homes didn't change significantly from 2009 to 2010, she said, but there was real improvement in a subset of homes, described as having "very low food security."
In this subset of households, people actually missed meals, skimped on meals or ran low on groceries because of a lack of money. However, the number of households in this category fell by 400,000, to 5.4 percent, or 6.4 million, when compared to 2009, Ms. Coleman-Jensen said.
The number of food-insecure homes with children also declined, from 10.6 percent in 2009 to 9.8 percent in 2010. Still, parents in about 386,000 households reported that they and their children missed meals at times during the year.
The report found that in 2010, 59 percent of all food-insecure households used at least one federal food programs, including Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps; the National School Lunch Program, or the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children.
Of households with very low food insecurity, about a third used a food pantry at least once, the report said.
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