WASHINGTON — The percentage of U.S. households that were food insecure in 2012 was “essentially unchanged” from 2011, as the slow pace of economic recovery from the devastating 2007-08 recession continued to make it difficult for many Americans to rise out of poverty, according to “Household Food Security in the United States in 2012” report issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Sept. 4. The report was prepared on the basis of the U.S.D.A.’s 18th annual survey of the nation’s household food security.

The report indicated 17.6 million households, or 14.5% of all American households, were food insecure in 2012. The U.S.D.A. defines “food insecure households” as those that had difficulty at some time during the year providing enough food for all their members due to a lack of resources.

“The change from the 2011 estimate (14.9%) was not statistically significant, meaning that the difference may be due to sampling variation,” the report’s authors said. “The prevalence of food insecurity has been essentially unchanged since 2008.”

In 2012, 5.7% of U.S. households (7 million households) had very low food security, meaning food intake of some household members was reduced and normal eating patterns were disrupted at times during the year due to limited resources. The prevalence of very low food security was unchanged from 2011.

Ten per cent of American households (3.9 million households) had children who were food insecure, unchanged from 2011.

“While children are usually shielded from the disrupted eating patterns and reduced food intake that characterize very low food security, both children and adults experienced instances of very low food security in 1.2% of households with children (463,000 households) in 2012, essentially unchanged from 2011 (1.0%),” the authors noted.

Fifty-nine per cent of food-insecure households in the survey indicated that in the previous month they had participated in one or more of the three largest federal food and nutrition assistance programs (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP); Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), and the National School Lunch Program.

“Food insecurity remains a very real challenge for millions of Americans,” said Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack in introducing the survey results. “Today’s report underscores the importance of programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program that have helped keep food insecurity from rising, even during the economic recession. As the recovery continues and families turn to U.S.D.A. nutrition programs for help to put good food on the table, this is not the time for cuts to the SNAP program that would disqualify millions of Americans and threaten a rise in food insecurity. For our part, U.S.D.A. will continue to deliver a strong nutrition program with an error rate this is at a historic low.”