Oct. 6 (Bloomberg) -- The cost of hunger in the U.S., the world’s largest economy, was $167.5 billion last year as the recession in 2008 and a slow economic recovery pushed more American households into food insecurity, researchers said.
The number of food-insecure and hungry Americans in 2010 rose 30 percent from 2007, Waltham, Massachusetts-based Brandeis University said in an online statement yesterday, citing a study led by university professor Donald Shepard.
Hunger’s cost to society includes lost productivity, poor education, additional healthcare costs and charity donations to keep families fed, the researchers said. A 2007 report by Shepard estimated the U.S. hunger bill in 2005 at $90 billion, the university said.
“This increase in food insecurity and America’s hunger bill over these three years demonstrates the breadth of suffering associated with this recession,” Shepard said in the statement. “All Americans bear a part of these costs.”
The number of hungry and food-insecure Americans in 2010 increased to 48.8 million, up by 12 million from 2007, according to the report.
Hungry Americans are ill more often than others, resulting in estimated additional health care costs of $130.5 billion in 2010, according to the study. Poor education outcomes due to hunger cost society $19.2 billion, while private donations of food money and volunteer time to meet emergency food needs amounted to $17.8 billion, the researchers said.
“Hunger may not be obvious in America but this less visible consequence of rising unemployment, flat wages and growing poverty is becoming a real cost for every American household,” Donna Cooper, a senior fellow with the Center for American Progress who co-wrote the report, said in a statement.
The cost of hunger for every U.S. citizen was $542 in 2010, according to the study. Because the $167.5 billion estimate is based on “cautious methodology,” the actual cost of hunger and food insecurity to the nation is probably higher, according to the university.
Last year, almost half of U.S. families seeking emergency food assistance reported they had to choose between paying for utilities or heating oil and food, 40 percent indicated they had to pick between paying rent or a mortgage and food, while more than a third had to choose between paying for medical bills and food, the university said.
On a state level, Florida, California and Maryland had the biggest jump in their hunger bill during the recession, the study showed. The costs related to hunger and food insecurity surged 62 percent in Florida, 47 percent in California and 44 percent in Maryland last year, the researchers estimated.
The U.S. hunger bill calculated in the study doesn’t include the cost of federal nutrition programs of about $94 billion a year, Brandeis University said.
Sustained hunger reduction might be achieved through a mix of policies to boost the pay of lowest-wage earners, increase access to full-time employment and “modestly” expand government nutrition programs, the university said.
“Expanding the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program to all food-insecure households could cost about $83 billion a year,” the researchers wrote. “While we do not recommend this approach, we note that nonetheless it would cost the nation much less than the most recent hunger bill.”
--Editors: Claudia Carpenter, Dan Weeks
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