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Hunger in America – How Many Women and Children Go Hungry in the US?

July 24, 2011

Statistics Show Single Mothers, Children at Highest Risk for Hunger in America

By Linda Lowen, Guide

May 16 2011

Hunger should not be a women’s issue, but in the United States more women and children go hungry than any other demographic group. A report released by the US Department of Agriculture based on the most recent data from 2009 finds that hunger in America has a great deal to do with gender. More than 1 in 3 single mothers in struggle to feed their children, and more than 1 in 7 report that at least one member of their family doesn’t get enough to eat on a regular basis.

When being able to afford food becomes an issue, government programs such as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, often referred to as food stamps) and local food pantries are critically important to households and families that literally live hand to mouth. Labeled as “food insecure” by the US Department of Agriculture, by definition these households are:

…uncertain of having, or unable to acquire, enough food to meet the needs of all their members because they had insufficient money or other resources for food. Food-insecure households include those with low food security and very low food security.

Households with low food security often reduce the quality and variety of their diets in order to have enough to eat. They “make do” by buying cheaper, less nutritionally healthy and/or varied foods; relying on federal food assistance programs; or visiting food pantries.

Households with very low food security (also known as “food insecure with hunger”) often do not have enough to eat due to insufficient money or other government or community resources. Family members may cut back on meals, skip meals, or not eat for a whole day.

Of these households with very low food security, hunger is a fact of life; 97% reported that the food they bought did not last and they did not have the money to buy more, and 28% reported that an adult didn’t eat for a whole day due to lack of food.

In 2009, 50.2 million people lived in food-insecure households — 14.7% of households in the US. This breaks down to 9% of households with low food security and 5.7% of households with very low food security, or 10.5 million and 6.8 million households respectively. That year, 9 million children or 12.1% of children lived in households with food insecurity among children.

But compared to the national average of 14.7%, some households were at greater risk.

Gender is key in food insecurity. More than a third of single mother families — 36.6% of households with children headed by a single woman — were food insecure. In comparison, the rate of households with children headed by a single man that were food insecure was 27.8%.

Race also matters; in 2009 24.9% of black households and 26.9% of Hispanic households were food insecure.

Over 1 in 10 families with children headed by single mom face hunger in the course of a year. In 2009, 12.9% of households comprised of a single mother with children had very low food security, meaning that one or more members of these families, cut back on meals, skipped meals, or went an entire day without food.

Two major factors contributing to food insecurity are household income and the presence of children in the family. An estimated 43% of households living below the poverty line are food insecure, and households with children experience food insecurity at almost twice the rate of those without children (21.3% with children as compared to 11.4% without children.)

Although food insecurity was on the decline in the mid 2000s, rates increased significantly in 2008 (up more than 3%) and remained high in 2009. States with households facing the greatest food insecurity include: Arkansas,Texas, Mississippi, Georgia and North Carolina.


Nord, Mark and Alisha Coleman-Jensen. “Food Security in the United States: Definitions of Hunger and Food Security.” Briefing Rooms, USDA Economic Research Service. 15 November 2010.

Nord, Mark and Alisha Coleman-Jensen. “Food Security in the United States: Key Statistics and Graphics.” Briefing Rooms, USDA Economic Research Service. 14 January 2011.



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Hunger in America – How Many Women and Children Go Hungry in the US?.

One Comment
  1. Unfortunately this is a situation my autistic son and I are facing as well as the threat of homelessness looming before us.

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