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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- A U.S. Department of Agriculture survey pegged Utah as the worst state in the country for what it calls "food security" and a reluctance by its needy residents to apply for food stamps was cited as one reason.
Food security was defined as a household having readily available, nutritionally adequate food without having to resort to emergency food supplies, scavenging or stealing.
Utah had the highest incidence of food insecurity at 15.2 percent. The national average rate was 10.8 percent. Massachusetts ranked best in the nation with 6.4 percent.
In Utah about half the people who would qualify for food stamps and other federal food-assistance programs are not using them.
"Those households are the most vulnerable, and they're just not signing up," said Gina Cornia, executive director of Utahns Against Hunger.
One of the questions in the survey concerned parents skipping meals so their children could eat. Two-thirds of the food-insecure households reported they had done so in eight or more months the past year.
"This shows the culmination of a bunch of things," Cornia said. "These folks weren't faring well in the booming economy, either. Now in a downturn in the economy, this population is dipping even further."
The Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays produce food drives and publicity about churches and charities serving holiday meals.
Cornia and other advocates say that while the holiday meals are great, there are 362 days in the rest of the year when access isn't so sure.
"We focus on an emergency response at certain times of the year," Cornia said. "It's an empty notion that personal food storage or the church takes care of it when it can't possibly take care of it. The need doesn't end."
A Brandeis University assessment of the survey said food security ultimately is a question of economic security or enough money to pay rent and utilities and other costs of living less flexible than food.
The average food-secure household spent 35 percent more for food than a household of the same size and composition that was food-insecure, the university's Center on Hunger and Poverty reported.
Households without hunger problems also spent 1.3 times the maximum amount a household can get in food stamps.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)