Gov't: Hungry Americans No Longer 'Hungry'

ByLisa Stark

Nov. 16, 2006 — -- A key government report on hunger in America has eliminated that word from its findings but not because there are no longer people in need of nutrition.

A U.S. Agriculture Department report finds the number of households that have difficulty feeding themselves fell from 11.9 percent of the population in 2005 to 11 percent.

But when describing those who don't get enough to eat, roughly 35 million Americans, there has been a change in terminology.

Last year, families without enough money to buy food or families in which parents skip meals so their children can eat were labeled as having "food insecurity with hunger" and now they simply have "very low food security."

Only in Washington could there be a debate about the meaning of the word "hunger." Hundreds of miles away in Chicago, at the Holy Family Food Pantry, the people lining up for assistance know exactly what hunger means.

"I'm running out of food, so I got to find somewhere to get some food," Terry Sutton said.

But according to the new government report, that doesn't necessarily make him hungry.

Sutton and others like him have "very low food security."

"When they hear 'very low food security' it sounds like bureaucratic jargon. It doesn't sound like people who can't get enough to eat," said Deborah Leff of the Public Welfare Foundation.

Some say that may be just the point.

The Bush administration defends the change, saying it's based on recommendations from the National Academies, which questioned whether the report truly measures hunger or access to food.

"I'd say it passes the common sense test, in that it does identify there is a need and we do recognize that there are individuals in this country who face need from time to time," said Katie Coler, the undersecretary of the USDA.

But groups that fight hunger say this language hides a shameful reality.

"We have got 35 million people according to this report who, no matter what name you put on it, are facing a daily struggle against hunger," said Jim Weill of the Food Research and Action Center, a Washington-based nonprofit that tries to influence public policy and create partnerships to fight hunger.

And those on the front lines of this battle say there's no debate about that.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events