One in four Utah children suffers from food-supply shortages, according to a study released Tuesday. One in nine Utahns under age 12 goes hungry each day, and up to 15 percent are at risk of hunger because of family poverty.
The Community Childhood Hunger Identification Project study, conducted by the Food Research and Action Center based in Washington, D.C., estimates that 51,700 (11.3 percent) of children in Utah go hungry each day. The national average is 12.8 percent. Utah ranked 18th-best among the 50 states and the District of Columbia.The study estimates the total number of Utah children who are hungry or "at risk" of being hungry is 117,000 or 25.5 percent, compared to 26.8 percent nationally.
"There's never been a study of hunger anywhere in the world that has been more rigorous than this," said Victor Sidel, distinguished professor of social medicine at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City, who was an adviser to the study.
The study interviewed 2,335 low-income families with children in door-to-door visits in seven cities that were selected to give a good cross-section of the country, according to Robert J. Fersh, director of the research center.
Results found different rates of hunger among female-headed households and male-headed households, and among three levels of poverty (those below 75 percent of poverty level, those at 75-125 percent and those between 125 percent and 185 percent). Those rates were applied to data about the numbers of such families in each state.
"In Utah, the number of people in poverty has grown over 20 percent since 1985," said Steve Johnson, director of Utahns Against Hunger, during a press conference Tuesday. "Today, we estimate that over 200,000 Utahns live below the federal poverty level. The study shows a strong correlation between hunger and the use of emergency food programs. It is the experience of all of us at this table that hunger is affecting the lives and futures of Utah children."
"Children do not choose to be poor or hungry," said Roz McGee, director of Utah Children. "It is beyond their control. It is not beyond the control of adult Utahns who help make decisions about health and human service programs. It is up to all of us to ensure that hungry Utah children receive the food benefits that are available and to which they are entitled."
Emergency food pantries in Utah seem to bear out the gloomy report. According to Cathy Hoskins, Community Action Program, which operates eight local pantries, the numbers of people needing food keep going up. Last year, the pantry provided emergency food to families with 7,773 children ages 14-18, 18,594 ages 6-13, and 16,169 children up to age 5.
"I am outraged . . . we declared war on hunger over 30 years ago. We have won skirmishes, but not the battle," said Rev. Max Glenn, Shared Ministry.
The study estimates that 5.5 million children under age 12 nationwide are hungry; and 6 million more under age 12 are at risk of hunger."
Fersh added, "We believe that, if anything, these findings are conservative because they reflect conditions prior to the current recession and are based only upon interviews with people in their homes - none of the homeless population is included."
Because of such findings, Fersh's group on Tuesday launched the Campaign to End Childhood Hunger. "Perhaps the ultimate tragedy of hunger is that it is wholly preventable. We have more than enough food in this country to ensure that every child is properly fed. It's a simple matter of making the food accessible to all who need it," he said.
That campaign will push Congress to boost such programs as food stamps, school breakfast, summer food service, the Child and Adult Care Food Program and the Women, Infant and Children (WIC) food supplement program. Those programs now reach only a fraction of people who could qualify for them.
Kraft General Foods Foundation also announced Tuesday that is giving a grant of $750,000 for the campaign. Kraft General Foods President Geoffrey C. Bible said, "If it is within our means as a country to put an end to childhood hunger, as surely it is, why would we choose not to do it?"
How some states rank in the number of children under age 12 who are either hungry or "at risk" of hunger from poverty:
State Children who Hungry or Rank
are hungry "at risk"
Mississippi 18.9% 38.7% 51
Arkansas 18.4% 38.5% 50
Alabama 17.0% 35.0% 49
Average 12.3% 26.8%
UTAH 11.3 25.5% 21
Maryland 7.9% 16.4% 3
Connecticut 7.8% 16.2% 2
New Hampshire 10.0% 12.6% 1
Source: Community Childhood Hunger Identification Project.