CHICAGO The number of Americans receiving emergency food from the largest U.S. hunger-relief charity and its partners rose 46 percent from 2005 to 2009, according to a report released on Tuesday.
"Feeding America" said 37 million people, including 14 million children, needed emergency food aid each year, more than 10 percent of the U.S. population of 300 million. It based the figure on 61,000 interviews and 37,000 surveys of local charitable agencies.
That compares to 25.3 million people in 2005, when the group released its last quadrennial study.
"The findings of this study are nothing short of tragic," said Feeding America chief executive Vicki Escarra. "We have to find a way to feed people in the land of plenty."
The United States is the world's top corn and soybeans exporter as well as a major beef exporter.
Escarra was especially worried about the effects of hunger on children. It affects not only their health but their ability to succeed in school, she said.
Although the U.S. economy returned to growth in the second half of 2009 after nearly two years of recession, unemployment has remained stubbornly high at 10 percent. Feeding America reported last September that unemployment has played a major role in rising demand for emergency food.
"This is a real challenge for America," said Dennis Smith, director of the Northern Illinois Food Bank. "Hunger has become almost epidemic in this country."
The study also found that black and Hispanic Americans have been disproportionately affected by hunger.
Although each group makes up around 15 percent of the U.S. population, the report found that black Americans account for 34 percent of people seeking food and Hispanics 21 percent.
President Barack Obama has set a target of ending child hunger by 2015. Last year he backed a $1 billion annual increase in school lunch and other child nutrition programs.
(Editing by Alan Elsner)