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New State Health Survey Reveals Suicidal Thoughts Among Hungry and Food Insecurity Among Workers

News Release
December 11, 2003 Download PDF

A state health survey has found that more than one in five adults living in homes with hunger in 2001 and 2002 seriously considered suicide, according to an analysis of the survey results released today by the Oregon Center for Public Policy (OCPP).

“The high rate of suicidal ideation among adults living in households with hunger makes clear the seriousness with which Oregon needs to attack its hunger problem,” said Michael Leachman, policy analyst at OCPP. “Hunger, which is associated with other stresses such as sustained unemployment, too little income and high housing and health costs, is taking atoll on the mental health of too many of our state’s residents.”

The OCPP’s analysis of the state health survey data also finds that one in five adults, or 20 percent, in households with hunger said that their mental health was not good for nearly all, or all, of the previous month. Fifty-seven percent (57%, or nearly three-fifths) said that their mental health was not good at least one day of the previous month.

The study also confirms that work does not assure that Oregon adults will have enough money for food. “One in seven Oregon adults who were employed lived in food insecure homes during 2002, even though they were working,” said Leachman. “Too many jobs today do not provide enough for families to meet their basic needs.”

“Food insecure” means that these households were not sure at times over the previous year that they would have enough money to eat. Some of these households managed to avoid hunger throughout the year; in others, at least one person went hungry at times.

While the OCPP analysis found that most adults in food insecure homes were working, the OCPP also found especially high food insecurity rates among those adults who had been laid off during the recession. “Nearly one in three unemployed adults lived in a food insecure household in 2002,” said Leachman. “Because Congress has failed to extend benefits for the long-term unemployed, tens of thousands of unemployed Oregonians will lose benefits in the next few months, likely adding more to the ranks of food insecure.”

The OCPP analysis also found that hunger and food insecurity rates are particularly high among young adults with children. “Nearly one in three young adults aged 18 to 34 with kids lives in a food insecure household,” said Leachman. “State policy makers should focus their anti-hunger efforts primarily on these young families with children.” The OCPP analysis shows that hunger and food insecurity among adults declines as age increases.

The hunger questions on the state health survey were paid for by the Interagency Coordinating Council on Hunger, a committee of state department heads charged with providing recommendations for reducing hunger to Governor Kulongoski. The committee initially purchased the questions to see if the state survey would generate similar results to a widely publicized national survey on hunger that has consistently ranked Oregon among the worst states for hunger. Two years of results from the state survey now support the findings of the national survey.

“The state survey found that in 2002, 5.7 percent of adult Oregonians lived in a household where at least one person went hungry at times over the previous year,” said Leachman. “These results, like the results from 2001, are consistent with the findings of the national survey. There should be no doubt now that Oregon has a serious hunger problem.”

Note to reporters: The OCPP’s series, “Oregon Hunger Issues,” contains five issue briefs, all of which may be accessed from The five briefs are entitled:

The Oregon Center for Public Policy is a Silverton, Oregon-based non-profit research institute that uses research and analysis to advance policies and practices that improve the economic and social prospects of low- and moderate-income Oregonians, the majority of Oregonians.