Hunger Hysteria In the Land Of Plenty
By Robert Rector
Examining food security and obesity in America.
This week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released its annual report on household food security in the United States. According to USDA, some 12.5 million households, or roughly 11 percent of all households, experienced “household food insecurity” at some point in 2006 and some 35 million people lived in households with some form of food insecurity. Most of these households were low income. The report showed little change in food security levels in the U.S. over the last decade.
While these numbers sound ominous, it is important to understand what “food insecurity” means. According to the USDA, “food insecurity” is usually a recurring and episodic problem rather than a chronic condition. In 2006, around two-thirds of food insecure households experienced “low food security,” meaning that these households managed to avoid any disruption or reduction in food intake throughout the year but were forced by financial pressures to reduce “variety in their diets” or rely on a “few basic foods” at various times in the year.
According to the USDA, the remaining one-third of food insecure households (around 4 percent of all households) experienced “very low food security,” meaning that at least once in the year their actual intake of food was reduced due to a lack of funds for food purchase. At the extreme, about 1.4 percent of all adults in the U.S. went an entire day without eating at least once during 2006 due to lack of funds for food.
Children are generally shielded from food insecurity. Around one child in two hundred experienced “very low food security” and reduced food intake at least one time during 2006. One child in a thousand went a whole day without eating at least once during the year because the family lacked funds for food.
Political advocates proclaim that the USDA reports suggest there is widespread chronic hunger in the U.S. But the USDA clearly and specifically does not identify food insecurity with the more intense condition of “hunger,” which it defines as “discomfort, illness, weakness, or pain...caused by prolonged involuntary lack of food.”
What is rarely discussed is that the government’s own data show that the overwhelming majority of food insecure adults are, like most adult Americans, overweight or obese.