A University of Missouri study says nearly one million Missourians lack food or worry about not having enough of it. That translates to nearly one in six individuals lacking adequate access to food.

Sandy Rikoon (Photo courtesy of the University of Missouri)

Sandy Rikoon (Photo courtesy of the University of Missouri)

Study author Sandy Rikoon and his team at Mizzou’s Interdisciplinary Center for Food Security compiled the data, which charts food insecurity and hunger on a county-by-county basis. He says Missouri households are the hungriest they have been in decades.

“Year after year, Missouri’s numbers continue to get worse in terms of the percentage of population that is anxious about having sufficient food and then the percent of population that actually experiences disruptions in terms of skipping meals,” said Rikoon.

A 2015 USDA report ranks Missouri the state with the second greatest number of people lacking food in the nation.

“Food is a tradeoff. You have to pay for your gas. You have to pay for your rent. Food is at the bottom of that list and we are finding that more people are pressed to the edge,” said Rikoon.

Rikoon says one of the most vulnerable populations is children.

“About one out of every five children lives in a home that is food insecure, which is a really high percentage. Although, it’s our experience and probably most people’s experiences that in these households if there’s any food it’s often given to the children first.  Their experience of hunger is probably less. We also know that children who are food insecure, do worse in school, miss more school days and fall asleep more in class,” said Rikoon.

He says another vulnerable population is the elderly, especially in northern Missouri.

“The elderly are much less likely to participate in government programs, for various reasons like access and stigma,” said Rikoon.

The report also shows that southern Missouri continues to have the greatest levels of those lacking food.

“It’s pretty clear that the highest levels are in the Ozarks in southern Missouri, the Bootheel and a few rural northern counties. It’s also clearly a problem in the urban areas. By and large it tends to be a core urban and a rural problem, but we really try to stress to folks is that it’s also a suburban problem,” said Rikoon.

Rikoon says more than 260,000 Missourians receive assistance from food pantries each month.