Nutrition in the United States

The most direct way to end hunger is through food-assistance programs. These programs weave a vital food safety net for millions of children, seniors, people with disabilities, and struggling families. Two major pieces of legislation govern most of these programs—the Farm Bill and the Child Nutrition Bill.

Congress must renew these laws every five years, providing an opportunity to improve the programs and ensure all Americans have access to nutritious foods.

Despite gains made in 2010, too many children are unable to get the meals they need to stay healthy and hunger-free. Photo: Joe Molieri / Bread for the World

The Farm Bill

In 2018, Congress passed, and the president signed the Agriculture Improvement Act.

The legislation protects and strengthens the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). It provides additional funding for Employment and Training pilot projects—including funding for specific populations such as older Americans, formerly incarcerated individuals, people with disabilities, and families facing multi-generational poverty.

The law also made permanent nutrition incentives in SNAP and funded a new program allowing healthcare providers to give prescriptions for low-income people to buy fresh fruits and vegetables. Many of these policy change recommendations were included in Bread for the Worlds’ background paper, How the U.S. Farm Bill Can Help End Hunger.


Photo: Margie Nea for Bread for the World

Child Nutrition Programs

Our federal government’s major child nutrition programs, including school meals, summer feeding, and the WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) nutrition program for pregnant and new mothers with small children, were up for renewal in 2015.

Despite passage of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act in 2010, which expanded and improved these programs, there is still room for further policy changes that ensure all eligible children have access to nutritious meals, especially during the summer months when children are most at risk of hunger.

Bread for the World continues to look for legislative opportunities to support that could strengthen child nutrition by:

  • Streamlining summer and after-school meal programs
  • Allowing some states to provide summer EBT (electronic benefits transfer) for a limited number of children
  • Allowing some states to provide alternative summer meal deliveries under particular circumstances
The overall rate of food insecurity among college students is 36 percent—much higher than the national average of 11.8 percent, according to researchers at Temple University and the Wisconsin HOPE Lab. Photo: Mark Fenton / Bread for the World

The Facts

Nearly 13 million children in the United States—1 in 6—live at risk of hunger. Many of these children have parents who have jobs and work hard, but their wages aren’t high enough to cover the high costs of rent, transportation, and utilities—and daily meals.

Overall, 1 in 8 households in the U.S. struggles to put food on the table. While the number of Americans who struggle with hunger is slowly declining, rates of hunger are not yet back down to the pre-recession level of 2007.

Our federal government’s feeding programs serve as a lifeline for vulnerable children and families. Because children are hit especially hard by the effects of hunger and malnutrition, nutrition programs aimed at children are particularly important.

Only 1 out of every 10 grocery bags that feed people who are hungry come from church food pantries and other private charities. Federal nutrition programs, from school meals to SNAP, provide the rest. Our government’s child nutrition programs serve millions of children each year.

Most of these programs provide ready-to-eat food in places where children can be reached directly. Food provided through these programs meets science-based nutrition guidelines.

To receive free or reduced-price meals or WIC benefits, children must live in households that are “low-income” as defined by the federal government.

Only 1 out of every 10 grocery bags that feed people who are hungry come from church food pantries and other private charities. Federal nutrition programs, from school meals to SNAP, provide the rest.

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