Understanding Hunger in the United States

The 2008 data surprised people because it showed much more hunger than in previous years. In this lesson, students will learn about some of the report’s findings.
Grade Level

  • recognize that hunger exists in the United States;
  • make pie charts to compare hunger from one year to another;
  • take action to address the problem of hunger.
Essential Questions
  • What are the causes of hunger in the United States?
  • What is the relationship between hunger and equity?
  • In what different forms can data be presented? What makes one form more or less effective than another?


food security [ foōd siˈkyoŏritē ] (noun) having access at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members

food insecurity [ foōdˌinsiˈkyoŏritē ] (noun) uncertain of having, or unable to get, enough food to meet the needs of all household members. People experience food insecurity because they don’t have enough money to buy food, or don’t have access to resources to get food. The number of households with food insecurity is calculated by adding together the number of households with low food security and very low food security.

low food security [ lō foōd siˈkyoŏritē ] (noun) People in low-food-security households use various strategies to avoid having to reduce their food intake or dramatically change their eating patterns. The strategies include eating less varied diets, participating in federal food assistance programs (such as WIC or food stamps), or getting emergency food from food pantries.

very low food security [ ˈverē lō foōd siˈkyoŏritē ] (noun) People in very low food security households reduced their food intake or changed their eating patterns because they didn’t have enough money for food. For example, sometimes an adult in a very low food security household will skip a meal so that a child in the household can eat.



Every year the United States government reports on hunger in the United States. The 2008 data surprised people because it showed much more hunger than in previous years. In this lesson, students will learn about some of the report’s findings. They will try out different ways of presenting the data graphically so that they have a deeper understanding of it. Then, they will analyze the data before learning about different approaches to dealing with hunger.  Finally, they will evaluate the short- and long-term efficacy of those approaches.



This lesson is going to be about hunger in the United States. With your classmates, discuss these questions to get you thinking about hunger: When do you feel hungry? Is it at a certain time of day every day? When you feel hungry, how does it feel? Do you get tired when you’re hungry? Do you get cranky? If it’s at school, does it make it hard to concentrate on your work? Explain.

2. Now that you’ve thought about your own experiences with hunger, listen to some information about hunger in the United States. [Note to teachers: You can adapt the information from “By the Numbers: Hunger in the United States” (Handout 1) for your explanation to students.]

3. (Note: Depending on the availability of technology in your school, you may either draw a circle on the board or use an interactive program, like http://shodor.org/interactivate/activities/CircleGraph/  orhttp://nces.ed.gov/nceskids/createagraph/ for this activity.)

Let’s say there are 100 families. If you think of the circle as a pie, the 100 families make up the whole pie. Out of those 100 families, 85 can afford to buy food, and 15 can’t always afford to buy food. How would you divide the pie into pieces that show the 85 and the 15? With a partner, first draw a circle (or pie), then draw on the pie two pieces that show 85 families and 15 families. Label the pie chart “2008.” Share your pie chart with the class to make sure you got it right. What questions do you have about it?

4. Now make another pie chart for 2007. The numbers are different, though, because 2007 was a different year. In 2007, 89 out of 100 families could afford to buy food, and 11 families couldn’t always afford it. Compare the two charts. How are the two charts different? How did the number of families who can’t always afford food change from 2007 to 2008? What questions do the two pie charts raise for you?


Class Project

There are ways to help when people don’t have enough money to buy food (Handout 2). Discuss how you and your classmates can help. Try organizing a food drive—where people bring in cans of food—and then donate the food to a food pantry that gives it out to people who need it. Who will participate in your food drive? Will it be your class, or your whole school? Decide when to hold your food drive, and how to let people know about it. Working in groups, design posters to tell people about it. Have each group make a poster that is meant for a different audience. Some posters, for example, will be aimed at students. Others will be for parents or teachers. With a group, write letters to parents to tell them about the food drive. After you’ve held the food drive, give the food to the local food pantry. 


Political Cartoon

Political cartoons comment on current events, usually in a funny way. But unlike comic strips or comic books, you have to know about the news to “get” them. To understand this cartoon, for example, you need to know what “Fed” refers to. If you don’t know, do a an Internet search (what terms will you use?) to find out. When you understand what the Fed is and how it is related to the recession ending, you can look at the play on words that the cartoon uses. What more common phrase does “Will work for fed” sound like? (Hint: It’s related to this lesson!) Now explain the cartoon to a partner, including what makes it funny.

Reprinted with permission. Teachers may purchase individual cartoons for other lesson plans at PoliticalCartoons.com.

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