At one time, Oregon had more residents than any other state who went hungry. But the latest report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture tells a different story.
According to the report, released this week, Oregon fell from being the state with the highest percentage of hungry people in 1999 to a ranking of 17th in the nation in 2004. The decrease was called "significant" in national food insecurity rates.
The statistics changed little last year, the report said.
Based on data from December 2005, 11.9 percent of the state's population — 433,286 Oregonians – reported "low food security": They had enough food if they ate less varied diets, participated in federal food assistance programs or received emergency food from community food pantries.
However, 142,000 of those — or 3.9 percent of Oregonians — reported "very low" food security: At times they lacked money and other resources for food, or the food they bought did not last and they did not have money to get more. They said they could not afford to eat balanced meals; they cut the size of their meals or skipped meals and sometimes went hungry for whole days.
The report provides the most recent statistics on food security in U.S. households, as well as on how much they spend for food and the extent to which they participate in federal and community food assistance programs.
Overall, 89 percent of American households were "food-secure" throughout the entire year in 2005, meaning that they had access, at all times, to enough food for an active, healthy life.
According to the Oregon Hunger Relief Task Force, Oregon decreased its food insecurity rate over the years due to concentrated efforts to increase participation in federal nutrition programs such as food stamps, school lunches and summer meals for children.
The statewide network of emergency food providers also offered critical assistance, serving more than 190,000 Oregonians each month, including 70,000 children, according to Jessica Chanay, the task force's program and communications director.
Created by the Oregon Legislature in 1989 to advocate for hunger-reducing policies, the task force is composed of legislators; members of state government, nonprofit and religious organizations; and clients. It will release its legislative agenda early in December that focuses specifically on policy actions the Legislature can take to address hunger in Oregon.
"Hunger is an income issue and will continue to exist until the following issues are addressed in Oregon: the lack of living wage jobs; high cost of housing, heating and transportation; the lack of adequate health care and child care; and taxes that unproportionally burden the poor," Chanay said in a written statement.
"When an individual or family with limited resources must use all of their resources to pay for housing, health and child care, the food budget is either cut or substantially reduced. No bill collectors will knock on your door asking why you haven't paid enough for groceries this month."
Prolonged hunger and food insecurity produce serious health consequences, particularly for children, who exhibit behavioral problems, learning delays and get sick more often, Chanay noted.
"An improvement in Oregon's food security ranking is truly a welcome sign that we are making progress. However, if we fail to continue our efforts to eliminate hunger by taking action on the state, local and neighborhood levels, we will again see a rise in the number of Oregonians struggling to put food on their tables," she added.
Statistics included in the U.S. Department of Agriculture report tracked Oregon's low food security and very low food security statistics for the past 10 years.
Oregon Households with Low Food Security:
• 1996-98: 14.2 percent
• 2000-02: 13.7 percent
• 2003-05: 11.9 percent (433,286 Oregonians)
Oregon Households with Very Low Food Security:
• 1996-98: 6.0 percent (highest in the nation)
• 2000-02: 5.0 percent
• 2003-05: 3.9 percent (142,000 Oregonians)
To view the task force's recommendations for eliminating hunger in Oregon, visit www.oregonhunger.org/content/view/18/0.
The Household Food Security in the United States report is available at www.ers.usda.gov/Briefing/FoodSecurity/. Another report, titled "The Consequences of Hunger and Food Insecurity for Children: Evidence from Recent Scientific Studies" is at http://centeronhunger. brandeis.edu/ pdf/ConsequencesofHunger.pdf