Understanding Hunger

What is Hunger?

Hunger and food insecurity can look different under different circumstances and for different people. Hunger is often defined by numbers and statistics but is important to recognize that hunger has a face, hunger has feelings, hunger is people all around us. Often, we fail to recognize hunger as it walks our streets, attends our churches or schools, and even sits next to us at work, but hunger is real in our community.

Below are definitions used to describe hunger that have been developed by Feeding America.

Hunger: Hunger, defined as the uneasy or painful sensations caused by a lack of food, occurs when food intake is reduced below normal levels. Hunger is both a motivation to seek food and an undesirable consequence of lack of food. Though experienced by everyone episodically, hunger becomes a social problem when the means of satisfying the drive to seek food, and of relieving the uncomfortable or painful sensations that accompany hunger, are not available or accessible due to lack of resources.

Food Security: Food security is the condition of having regular access to enough nutritious food for a healthy life. In the United States, the concept of food security is assessed using the U.S. Food Security Scale, an official, government-sponsored evaluation instrument that captures food security at the household level. The Census Bureau administers the U.S. Food Security Scale annually in its national Current Population Survey, and the USDA Economic Research Service analyzes the data and publishes a report on Food Security in the U.S each year.

Food Insecurity: Food insecurity is the condition of not having regular access to enough nutritious food for a healthy life. High and low levels of food insecurity are differentiated based on the duration and severity of food insecure periods. In the U.S., having access to nutritious food requires that the food be physically present in the local food system (e.g. supermarkets; other food stores; markets; restaurants; and food vendors), and that households have sufficient financial resources to purchase it. Thus poverty is the major proximal cause of food insecurity in the U.S.

The Food Insecurity Continuum: On the least severe end of the spectrum, food insecurity manifests as household members’ worries or concerns about the foods they can obtain, and as adjustments to household food management, including reductions in diet quality through the purchase of less-expensive foods. There is generally little or no reduction in the quantity of household members’ food intake at this level of severity, but micro-nutrient deficiencies are common.

As the severity of food insecurity increases, adults in the household often reduce the quantity of their food intake, to such an extent that they repeatedly experience the physical sensation of hunger. Because adults tend to ration their food as much as possible to shield the children in the household from the effects of food insecurity, children do not generally experience hunger at this level of insecurity, though their diets tend to be extremely poor in nutrients.

In the most severe range of food insecurity, caretakers are forced to frequently reduce children’s food intake to such an extent that the children experience the physical sensation of hunger. Adults, in households both with and without children, consistently experience more extensive reductions in food intake at this stage. 




In the United States...

1 in 6 Americans struggles with hunger
More than 1 in 5 children in America live below the poverty line
17.2 million households are food insecure
16 million+ children struggle with hunger
8% of seniors living alone are food insecure
49 million Americans live in food insecure households
Food insecurity exists in every county in America


In Washington...

In the State of Washington between 2008 and 2011 the hunger rate rose from 4.3% to 6.2%, giving Washington a higher rate of hunger than the national average (5.7%). Even more striking is that the USDA reports Washington has a 15.4% rate of food insecurity giving us the 14th highest ranking in both hunger and food insecurity compared to the rest of the United States.  

A survey of Washington women ages 18-44 found that about 16% had cut the size of a meal, or the number of meals in their household because they did not have the money or resources to provide more good.


In Clark County...

According to a 2011 report by Feeding America, 17.3% (72,140 individuals) of all Clark County residents are "food insecure", 28% (31,160) of all Clark County children are also "food insecure"


220px-USDA_MyPlate_green.jpgMyPlate was introduced in 2011 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to replace the Food Guide Pyramid. Its design was based on the recommendations from the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for American which are designed to identify current dietary issues in the nation, and help Americans adopt healthy eating habits. The MyPlate food guide identifies daily meal proportions for the fruit, vegetable, grain, protein and dairy food groups in an easy-to-understand illustration. The intentional design using a plate aims to help Americans build a healthier, more balanced, more colorful plate at each meal.

We use MyPlate in our nutrition education classes to help teach people proper healthy portions that they should be eating with each meal.

Additional Resources