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Hunger frets 12-million families

About 12-million American families last year worried that they couldn't afford to buy food, and 32 percent of them had someone going hungry at one time or another, the Agriculture Department said Friday.

It was the third year in a row that the department has seen an increase in the number of households experiencing hunger and those worried about having enough money to pay for food.

Based on a Census Bureau survey of 50,000 households, the department estimated that 3.8-million families were hungry last year to the point that someone in the household skipped meals because they couldn't afford them. That's an 8.6 percent increase from 2001, when 3.5-million families were hungry, and a 13 percent increase from 2000.

Also, more and more families are unsure if they can afford to eat or don't have enough food in their cupboards. Last year, 11 percent of 108-million families were in that situation. That's up 5 percent from 2001 and 8 percent from 2000.

Most poor families struggling with hunger tried to ensure their children are fed, the report said. Nonetheless, one or more children in an estimated 265,000 families missed meals last year because the families either couldn't afford to eat or didn't have enough food.

Meanwhile, nearly 65 percent of adults and 13 percent of children are overweight, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Barbara Laraia, an associate professor of nutrition at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, said hunger and obesity can coexist because many hungry families struggle with their weight. She said they tend to buy high-calorie foods that are low in nutrients.

"They're dependent on foods that are going to make their bellies feel full, rather than on nutrients," Laraia said.

Also, many families spend money on fixed expenses such as rent and utilities before food.

"Food is the most elastic part of the budget, meaning that's what households will compromise on," Laraia said.

Food worries

In 2002, about 12-million families in the United States were unsure if they could afford food and some experienced going hungry.

People's confidence in their ability to buy food

7.6% Insecure without going hungry

3.5% Insecure, experiencing some hunger

88.9% Secure

Source: USDA

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