WASHINGTON, Sept. 6, 2017 - Millions of children are still going hungry or are not eating properly in the U.S., but the overall number of people suffering what USDA calls food insecurity continues to creep lower, according to a report released today by the department’s Economic Research Service.

People in about 12.3 percent of U.S. households had trouble getting good food or didn’t get enough to eat at some point last year, concluded to the survey-based report, "Household Food Security in the United States in 2016." That’s down from 12.7 percent in 2015.

The category of food insecurity is broken into two subsets – low food security and very low food security. While low security is troubling because some people cannot get the quality and variety of food most Americans can afford, very low security means that members of a household have to skip meals or sometimes go without eating for days at a time.

While it’s a positive sign that the level of food insecurity fell slightly in 2016, it’s still above the pre-recession rate in 2007 of 11.1 percent, said Alisha Coleman-Jensen, one of the authors of the ERS report. The level peaked at 14.9 percent by 2011 and has been dropping gradually ever since.

Coleman-Jensen said it's difficult putting an accurate number on the number of children still going hungry. About 3.1 million households with children reported being food insecure during the year, but often those households have more than one child.

Roughly 6.5 million children live in homes where there is often not enough food to eat, she said, but she also stressed that it’s usually the adults who may suffer the most.

“As food insecurity becomes more severe, adults may reduce their food intake while trying to insure children get enough to eat,” she said. “Research has shown that parents will try to shield their children from food insecurity.”

It’s only in the worst cases that children are forced to skip meals or not eat for long periods of time. That describes children in about 300,000 homes last year, Coleman-Jensen said.

The ERS report showed that 4.9 percent of families in the U.S. experienced very low food security in 2016, little changed from 5 percent in 2015.

Also, while the level of overall food insecurity has dropped, that may not be true for all categories of households. For example, the report showed an uptick in the inability to buy enough food year-round in homes with a single, female head of the household.

The highest levels of food insecurity were found in 15 states: Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, North Carolina, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas and West Virginia. Food insecurity in those states was higher than the national average.

The charts provided in the ERS report did not track the prevalence of very low food security on the state level, but Coleman-Jensen said Hawaii and Delaware were the states with the least households in that category (3 percent), while Louisiana and Alabama had the most (7.7 percent).