Challenging 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 and explain why;
  • identify which groups are most affected by hunger and explain why;
  • identify ways to address the problem of hunger;
  • read, make and analyze graphs that show that hunger is a growing problem in the United States.
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?

Handout: By the Numbers: Hunger in the United States 

Handout: Dealing with the Problem of Hunger 

America’s Economic Pain Brings Hunger Pangs (optional reading)


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. In a journal, write about your own experiences with hunger, using these questions to guide you: When do you feel hungry? Is it at a certain time of day every day? When you feel hungry, how does it affect you? Do you get tired when you’re hungry? Do you get cranky? If it’s at school, can you still concentrate on your work?

2. Now think about your own experiences in a larger context. Read “By the Numbers: Hunger in the United States” (Handout 1). Use the glossary to learn the meaning of the terms you don’t know. Team up with one or two other students to work with the data on the handout. Start with Food Security in Households. There are two types of information there. First, there is information about the percentages of households in 2008 that experienced food security, low food security, and very low food security. Second, there is information that compares food security in 2008 with food security in 2007. With your team, discuss how you could show these two types of information using graphics. Some types of graphics you might consider are: T-charts, pie charts, tables, bar graphs, and line graphs. Which type of graphic would best display each type of information? If you’re not sure, try out different types and see what happens. Choose the best graphic(s) and make them on computers if you have them (Note: consider an interactive program, likehttp://shodor.org/interactivate/activities/CircleGraph/  or http://nces.ed.gov/nceskids/createagraph/ for this activity). Otherwise make charts or overheads. Before you move on, compare your graphics with another team’s.

3. When you’re confident that you’ve presented the Food Security data well, move through the rest of the handout with your group, creating graphics for the rest of the data. Again, present the data in well-made graphics. Have each team present a graphic and explain what it shows. Also, have them explain why they chose that particular graphic. The goal of this part of the activity is to show different ways of presenting data and to evaluate which are the most effective.

4. Now turn your attention to the actual content of the data. To be sure you’ve got the information down, answer the following questions:

  • How did the number of households experiencing food security and food insecurity change from 2007 to 2008?
  • Which types of households were most affected by food insecurity? Which were least affected?

Think about what this information means. With the class, discuss the following questions:

  • Why is there hunger in the United States?
  • Why are some groups more affected than others?

What other questions do you have about the data? Pose them during the class discussion and see if people can answer them. If not, discuss where you might find answers and have people volunteer to find the answers and report back to the class.

5. There are different ways for society to deal with hunger. Some are actions that individuals and communities take. Others are actions that the government takes. Read and complete “Dealing With the Problem of Hunger” (Handout 2). Which approaches do you think are most effective in the short term? Why? Which do you think are most effective in the long term? Why?

Class Project

Take action to address hunger in your community. For example, hold a school-wide food drive. You might also want to discuss government approaches to dealing with hunger and then write to or lobby your representatives to enact them.


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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