'Meal Gap' study finds one in six in Southern Nevadans going hungry

More Southern Nevadans have been going hungry than previously thought, according to a study released Thursday by Feeding America and Three Square Food Bank.

The study found that one out of every six local people was "food insecure" in 2009. The U.S. Department of Agriculture previously reported that one of eight Southern Nevadans was food insecure that year.

The USDA defines food-insecure households as those that do not always have access to enough food because of a lack of money or other resources.

Officials of hunger-relief agencies think the new study, called "Map the Meal Gap," more accurately reflects hunger levels because it takes into account each area's unemployment, cost of food, poverty levels, demographics and other factors.

The study "paints a clear picture of the increased need in our community and the grim reality of the recession's impact on Las Vegas and Southern Nevada," said Julie Murray, president and CEO of Three Square, a local nonprofit that supplies food to hundreds of agencies that feed the needy.

The study reveals that more than 300,000 people in Clark, Esmeralda, Lincoln and Nye counties didn't always have access to enough food. While the majority were Clark County residents, Nye County had the highest rate of food insecurity, at 19.8 percent.

Northern Nevada counties experienced food insecurity at lower rates than their southern neighbors. Previously, such data were only available for the state as a whole in the USDA's annual report.

Statewide, about 16 percent of households didn't always have enough to eat in 2009. The national average was 16.6 percent.

The study also showed that 39 percent of Southern Nevadans considered food insecure do not qualify for federal nutrition programs and often must rely on charities to fill the gap.

Nationally, counties with the highest rates of food insecurity included Wilcox County, Ala., at nearly 38 percent; Holmes County, Miss., at 36 percent; and Imperial County, Calif. at 31 percent.