Kansas is known as the world's breadbasket, but many of the state's residents are having trouble putting food on the table, according to a study released Thursday.
Each year an estimated 105,000 Kansas households -- about one in 10 -- experience uncertainty about the availability of enough food to eat, according to the report. And in 38,000 of those households, someone goes hungry.
"It's a real paradox," said Dr. Robert St. Peter, president of the Kansas Health Institute. And he noted that, while many Kansans were struggling with obesity, many are fighting simply to get enough food for themselves and their children.
Officials said the problem was even worse than reported because the study relied on U.S. Census Bureau data that missed thousands of homeless people.
"If anything, it may be understated," said Barbara LaClair, an institute research analyst and author of the study, "Hunger in the Heartland: Hunger and Food Insecurity Among Kansans."
LaClair analyzed detailed census surveys on food from 1995 to 2000. A total of 3,443 Kansas households were interviewed.
The analysis showed insecurity about food was spread across the state and hit both rural and urban areas.
Fifty-eight percent of the households struggling to have adequate amounts of food had at least one full-time worker. Households most at risk were those headed by a single female.
Perhaps most alarming was the finding that 46 percent of households that reported problems had not tried to access the food-stamp program or other forms of assistance. Only 16 percent sought help from community food pantries.
LaClair called for improved coordination of governmental agencies to reduce hunger.
Janet Schalansky, the state's top social services official, said she was troubled by the number of people who didn't try to get help.
"There is a stigma issue related to that," she said.
She urged low-income Kansans who think they may be eligible for assistance to contact the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services.
Karole Bradford, of Inter-Faith Ministries of Wichita, said the issues went beyond families not seeking assistance.
For example, many low-income neighborhoods have convenience stores rather than grocery stores, she said. "It is easier to get Twinkies than broccoli," she said. "We see low-income people set up to make bad choices."
And Karen Haren, executive director of Harvesters, a food bank that covers northeast Kansas, said many children missed meals during the summer because they were not in school, where free breakfast and lunch are offered.