Close to one out of every eight Americans struggled to feed themselves adequately in 2007, a report by the Agriculture Department, released earlier this week, revealed.
The statistic translates to 36.2 million adults and children who struggled with hunger last year, slightly up from 35.3 million in 2006. In other words, 12.2 percent of Americans did not have enough money or assistance to obtain enough food to maintain active, healthy lives, according to the report.
Nearly a third of the number of Americans struggling to feed themselves went hungry at some point, which represents a growth of more than 40 percent since 2000.
But perhaps the most disturbing finding was that the number of hungry children in America rose 50 percent in 2007. Some 691,000 children in the United States went hungry sometime last year, compared to 430,000 in 2006. The number of hungry children in 2007 represents the largest figure since 716,000 in 1998.
"Even before this year's severe economic downturn, more households were struggling to put food on the table," said Bread for the World President David Beckmann. "As the crisis continues, federal nutrition programs are working overtime to keep up with the need."
The anti-hunger ministry highlighted that participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly the Food Stamp Program) is nearing record highs.
Nearly 30 million people, half of them children, receive SNAP benefits. This is a 9.5 percent increase compared to last year's figure.
The number means that one in every two babies in America receives special nutrition assistance through the federal Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program.
"More than one in six children lives on the brink of hunger in the U.S.," Beckmann noted. "America desperately needs political leadership that will see to it that all our children get the basic nutrition they need to thrive."
James Weill, president of the anti-hunger group Food Research and Action Center, predicts the 2008 hunger figures will be even higher given the severe economic downturn this year.
"There's every reason to think the increases in the number of hungry people will be very, very large based on the increased demand we're seeing this year at food stamp agencies, emergency kitchens, Women, Infants and Children clinics, really across the entire social service support structure," said Weill, according to The Associated Press.
A post-election poll, conducted by the Alliance to End Hunger, showed that a significant number of Americans are just one paycheck away from facing difficult choices on how to feed their families. Nearly half of American voters reported that they live paycheck to paycheck.
Three in five voters reported being impacted by high food prices, including one in five voters who said they worry that they or someone they know will go hungry.
President-elect Barack Obama during his campaign pledged his commitment to end childhood hunger by 2015 and to cut poverty in half within 10 years.
"These goals need to be Mr. Obama's priority. Together with the new Congress, he can help put the nation on that path by strengthening child nutrition programs when they are reauthorized next year," said Beckmann.