Economic Perspective: Measuring Hunger

MARY WALDEN:

“Today’s program looks at measuring hunger. Mike, historically hunger has been a major social issue, and efforts have been made by many countries to reduce or eliminate it. For example, in the U.S. we have the federally funded Supplementary Food Assistance Program, formerly food stamps, which helps 46 million people at an annual cost of over $75 billion. Yet I still hear we have many folks with hunger issues. Why?”

 

MIKE WALDEN:

“Well, this is because the definition of hunger has become more sophisticated and detailed. We now measure hunger in a different way. In fact, the government uses a concept not called hunger, but they call it food security. And so the percentages that you hear, that many take to mean people aren’t getting meals, that’s not necessarily the case. We’re talking about food security, and the percentages for people who are low on food security.”

“Now measuring food security has many dimensions. It could mean, for example, worrying that you don’t know if your food supply will run out, not being able to afford a balanced meal, perhaps occasionally having to skip a meal or eating less than you think you should. A very, very small part of that has to do with people actually having no food whatsoever. So the good news is that we have really lowered, tremendously, the number of people who just go hungry.”

“But there are some other issues with hunger that this food security number tries to get at. And right now, nationwide, fourteen percent of our households in the country are considered to have low food security. It’s slightly higher in North Carolina, and fortunately however, the percentage of people again who say they have to skip a meal because they simply don’t have food is much, much lower. It’s in the single digits.”