of the CBS television documentary, ‘Hunger in America’” (Eisinger, 1998, p. 12). The recognition that hunger exists in the United States led to an increase of federal programs and projects to eliminate the effects of poverty (Eisinger, 1996). Since the late 1960s, government agencies, academic researchers, nonprofit organizations, and advocacy groups have undertaken many studies to define and measure hunger in the American context, but without any consensus on the definition of hunger or its measurement strategy or estimates of the extent of the problem. As Radimer and colleagues observed (Radimer, Olson, and Campbell, 1990, p. 1545), “The definitions of hunger varied widely and measures of hunger were generally indirect and the definitions and measures often lacked congruence.”

The term “hunger” was often used interchangeably with malnutrition, and medical and dietary intake data were used to measure the problem. Other studies attempted to use poverty data or trends in the number of people seeking food assistance as proxies for hunger. Still others attempted to gather data through various surveys. This discordance at times was a product of competing professional and political agendas (Eisinger, 1996, 1998).


This public attention to hunger led to increases in programs and projects to alleviate the condition. In the early 1980s, adverse economic conditions and efforts to limit federal spending led to a general belief that hunger was widespread in the United States and may have been increasing. This concern led President Reagan to establish a task force to examine the food assistance programs and the claims of a resurgence of hunger. The Task Force on Food Assistance concluded that the issue of hunger was complex and observed that the terms “hunger,” “poverty,” and “unemployment” were often used interchangeably although they are distinct problems. Also, the population that relied on food assistance was not a homogeneous group.

After much investigative work, the task force made a distinction between two different working definitions of “hunger”: (1) a scientific, clinical definition in which hunger means “the actual physiological effects of extended nutritional deprivations” and (2) a definition of hunger as commonly defined, relating more to a social phenomenon than medical results, in which hunger is “the inability, even occasionally, to obtain adequate food and nourishment. In this sense of the term, hunger can be said to be present even when there are no clinical symptoms of deprivation” (U.S. President, Task Force on Food Assistance, p. 34).

The task force concluded that “with this possible exception [the homeless], there is no evidence that widespread undernutrition is a major health

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