WASHINGTON — More than 35.5 million people in this country went hungry in 2006 as they struggled to find jobs that can support them, a figure that was virtually unchanged from the previous year, the Agriculture Department said Wednesday.

In Utah, 10 percent of Utahns live in poverty, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Among them, almost 350,000 are at risk of missing meals due to lack of resources, according to the Utah Food Bank.

Single mothers and their children are among the most likely to suffer both in Utah and nationally, according to the study. Their suffering is often compounded by lack of education.

Nationally, the 35.5 million people represented more than 1 in 10, or 12.1 percent, who said they did not have enough money or resources to get food for at least some period during the year, according to the department's annual hunger survey. That is compared with 35.1 million people who made similar claims in 2005.

"This is encouraging, but we know we have more work to do," said Kate Houston, USDA's deputy undersecretary for food, nutrition and consumer services. She said the numbers aren't much different from 2005, which saw a decline after five straight years of increases.

Of the 35.5 million people, 11.1 million reported they had "very low food security," meaning they had a substantial disruption in the amount of food they typically eat. For example, among families, a third of those facing disruption in the food they typically eat said an adult in their family did not eat for a whole day because they could not afford it.

"No one in America should go hungry," Houston said.

Provo Mayor Lewis Billings and the chairmen of the Republican and Democratic parties in Utah County agree. They have issued a proclamation naming today "Feed America Day."

Utah County Republican chairman Marian Monnahan and county Democratic chairman Richard Davis joined Billings in asking Provo residents to skip two meals between today and Nov. 28 and donate the money saved to a charitable or religious organization for the purpose of feeding the hungry.

Monnahan and Davis pledged to promote the fast within their organizations.

Feed America Day was started by Provo resident David Perry and is observed in dozens of major cities and small towns around the country. This is the sixth year Provo is participating.

The national survey was based on Census Bureau data and does not include the homeless.

Among the findings:

• Among families, about 12.6 million, or 10.9 percent, reported going hungry for at least some period last year. Those disproportionately reporting hunger were single mothers (30.4 percent); black households (21.8 percent); Hispanic households (19.5 percent); and households with incomes below the official poverty line (36.3 percent).

• States with families reporting higher prevalence of hunger from 2004-2006 included: Mississippi (18.1 percent); New Mexico (16.1 percent); Texas (15.9 percent); and South Carolina (14.7 percent).

Utah is ranked seventh nationally for highest rate of food insecurity, according to the food bank.

• Of the 35.5 million people reporting periods of hunger last year, 12.6 million were children.

"This report comes at a critical time for hungry Americans and those of us who help serve them," said Vicki Escarra, president of the nation's largest hunger relief group — America's Second Harvest-The Nation's Food Bank Network. "There simply may be no food for many families when the rest of the nation gathers to celebrate Thanksgiving and religious holidays."

In the report, the terms "low food security" and "very low food security" replace the old descriptions of "food insecurity without hunger" and "food insecurity with hunger." The change was made last year based on a recommendation by the National Academies, which advise the government on science issues, a move that has drawn criticism by some Democrats who say the report speaks too euphemistically.

Jim Weill, president of the Food Research and Action Center, an anti-hunger group, said he is troubled by the report. He said figures for 2007 could prove to be worse, given rising food prices and an uneven economy this year.

"We need to do more to make sure that households have access to healthy food by improving and expanding proven programs that help," he said.

Utahns can help feed the hungry by visiting utahfoodbank.org. They can donate online by choosing specific food items such as soups or holiday hams and turkeys for $10 each. They can also learn how to sponsor food drives and can sign up to volunteer.


Contributing: Rebecca Palmer, Deseret Morning News