OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

OSU hunger/food insecurity expert available to speak with media

11/16/2009

CORVALLIS, Ore. —  The newest report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture indicates that the rates of hunger and food insecurity both continue to increase in the state of Oregon. Around 6.6 percent of Oregon households (approximately 95,000 households per year), between January 2006 and December 2008, experienced at least a month where they were shrinking meal portions, skipping meals, and embracing other strategies to deal with financially driven food shortages in the home.

Oregon is no stranger to the upper ranks of the USDA’s hunger and food insecurity list, having been ranked worst in the nation a decade ago. In recent years, the state reduced hunger challenges to numbers approaching the national average. However, with double-digit unemployment, significant underemployment and difficulty in the state housing market – all significant contributors to food insecurity/hunger – the challenges of feeding the state’s residents have grown once again.

These households experienced what is technically called “very low food security,” a condition informally referred to as “hunger.” A larger group, 13.1 percent of Oregon households, experienced food insecurity, a group that includes those experiencing hunger and those who experienced limited access to and confidence in obtaining an adequate diet for everyone in the home.

The Oregon rates of hunger and food insecurity both substantially increased since last year’s USDA report, from 5.5 percent to 6.6 percent, and from 12.4 percent to 13.1 percent, respectively. Oregon is now among five states with the highest hunger rate, in the company of Mississippi, Maine, Oklahoma and Missouri. Its food insecurity rate is similar to many other states. The estimates are based on a three-year moving average of the most recently available data.

“Because the one-year Oregon hunger rate for 2005 was especially low, but is now not included in the 2006-08 estimate, the annual increase appears to be more immediate and dramatic than it actually is,” said Mark Edwards, associate professor of sociology at Oregon State University. “Our estimations of the 2008 annual rate show it be nearly the same as for 2007, around 7.2 percent -- very high by national standards.”

In other words, the very low 2005 rate obscured the fact that the rates were already quite high in 2006 and 2007, with a rapid increase during 2007. However, this does not negate the current finding that Oregon’s measured rate of very low food security is among the highest in the country, indicating that Oregon households have been especially hard hit in the adverse economic climate of the past several years.

The large and growing number of households experiencing very low food security helps explain the rapidly growing enrollment in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly referred to as “food stamps”. More than 250,000 Oregon households (around 560,000 people) currently receive food stamp assistance.

To learn more about how food insecurity is measured, and about national trends, see:

http://www.ers.usda.gov/Browse/view.aspx?subject=FoodNutritionAssistanceFoodSecurityHunger

To learn more about research into food insecurity and hunger in Oregon, see:

http://ruralstudies.oregonstate.edu/Publications/OregonHunger_09-01_FactSheet.pdf