Millions of Americans Can't Always Afford Food

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Previously released data from the USDA show that two groups are at highest risk for food insecurity: adults ages 60 to 65 who are jobless but not eligible for Social Security and children, especially on weekends and during the summers. More than 17 million children are food insecure, but the USDA found that only 2 million used the Summer Food Service Program in 2005.

No Easy Answer, But Education is Key

Those who don't qualify for assistance programs should take advantage of other resources that may be available in the community.

"Church programs and local food banks are two options but more needs to be done to supply the working poor with better access to food as well as quality food," said Connie Diekman, director of university nutrition at Washington University in St. Louis. "Families also need to be sure their children use school meal benefits. If children consume these two meals at school families can use limited funds to ensure an adequate dinner meal."

There's also a need to educate people about ways to incorporate healthier foods into their regular diets.

"Some of the most nutritious foods are extremely inexpensive, such as beans and lentils, for instance," said Katz. If lower-income people ate some of these foods, he said, they could be well-nourished and maintain a healthy weight.

Eating healthy on a very tight budget often requires changing habits, which can be difficult.

"There is no money for eating out," said Ayoob. "Sometimes, it's a hard concept for people to grasp, especially if they are new to being food insecure, but it's something that's necessary to accept if they are to stretch their food dollars."

He also said while a dozen eggs and a gallon of low-fat milk may seem expensive, the cost per glass is only about 25 cents and the cost of two eggs just 30 cents, "making the main dish for a family of four cost about $1.20, and it's incredibly nutrient rich." The average cost of a meal, according to the Map the Meal report, is $2.54.

"There is no 'one size fits all' solution for hunger," said the report's authors. "As food insecurity looks different from county to county, so do the solutions. The best way to help people facing hunger is to understand who is hungry and why they are hungry at the community level."

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