(NaturalNews) More than one in seven U.S. households lacked food security at some point in 2009, according to a report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). That figure is the highest since record-keeping began in 1995.
The report defines food security as having access to enough food to lead an active, healthy life. In 2009, 14.7 percent of U.S. households -- comprising more than 37 million adults and 17 million children -- lacked food security on one or more occasions. This marked only a mild increase over 2008, when the figure was 14.6 percent, but a substantial increase over 2007, when it was only 11.1 percent.
When the figures are broken down by degree of food insecurity, they reveal that 9 percent of U.S. households had low food security in 2009, defined as needing to rely on emergency food help (including from federal assistance programs like food stamps) or on "eating less varied diets." Nearly six percent had very low food security, meaning that at least one member of the household had their normal eating patterns disrupted at least once during the year.
Use of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, also known as food stamps) rose dramatically, from 12.7 million households participating in 2008 to 15.2 million in 2009.
The report notes that while reliance on emergency food supplies rose throughout the decade, the greatest increase occurred between 2007 and 2009. Over that time period, the number of households relying on food pantries increased 44 percent, from 3.9 million to 5.6 million. Food pantry use by multiple-adult households without children rose 57 percent, and use by married-couple households rose 66 percent. The Midwest in particular appears to have been hard hit by the recession, with a 65 percent increase in food pantry usage in that region alone.
Although the rate of food pantry use grew at similar rates in metro and non-metro areas in 2009, suburban food pantry use topped metro use for the first time since 2001.