WASHINGTON (AP) -- Some 691,000 children went hungry in America sometime in 2007, while close to one in eight Americans struggled to feed themselves adequately even before this year's sharp economic downturn, the Agriculture Department reported Monday.
The department's annual report on food security showed that during 2007 the number of children who suffered a substantial disruption in the amount of food they typically eat was more than 50 percent above the 430,000 in 2006 and the largest figure since 716,000 in 1998.
Overall, the 36.2 million adults and children who struggled with hunger during the year was up slightly from 35.5 million in 2006. That was 12.2 percent of Americans who didn't have the money or assistance to get enough food to maintain active, healthy lives.
Almost a third of those, 11.9 million adults and children, went hungry at some point. That figure has grown by more than 40 percent since 2000. The government says these people suffered a substantial disruption in their food supply at some point and classifies them as having "very low food security." Until the government rewrote its definitions two years ago, this group was described as having "food insecurity with hunger."
The findings should increase pressure to meet President-elect Barack Obama's campaign pledge to expand food aid and end childhood hunger by 2015, said James Weill, president of the Food Research and Action Center, an anti-hunger group.
He predicted the 2008 numbers will show even more hunger because of the sharp economic downturn this year.
"There's every reason to think the increases in the number of hungry people will be very, very large based on the increased demand we're seeing this year at food stamp agencies, emergency kitchens, Women, Infants and Children clinics, really across the entire social service support structure," said James Weill, president of the Food Research and Action Center, an anti-hunger group.
Weill said the figures show that economic growth during the first seven years of the Bush administration didn't reach the poorest and hungriest people. "The people in the deepest poverty are suffering the most," Weill said.
The number of adults and children with "low food security" -- those who avoided substantial food disruptions but still struggled to eat -- fell slightly since 2000, from 24.7 million to 24.3 million. The government said these people have several ways of coping -- eating less varied diets, obtaining food from emergency kitchens or community food charities, or participating in federal aid programs like food stamps, the school lunch program or the Women, Infants and Children program.
Among other findings:
• The families with the highest rates of food insecurity were headed by single mothers (30.2 percent), black households (22.2 percent), Hispanic households (20.1 percent), and households with incomes below the official poverty line (37.7 percent).
• States with families reporting the highest prevalence of food insecurity during 2005-2007 were Mississippi (17.4 percent), New Mexico (15 percent), Texas (14.8 percent) and Arkansas (14.4 percent).
• The highest growth in food insecurity over the last 9 years came in Alaska and Iowa, both of which saw a 3.7 percent increase in families who struggled to eat adequately or had substantial food disruptions.