In Kentucky, 17 percent of households reported they couldn't buy enough food for their families during 2016-2017.

That percentage equates to more than one in six families, and when it comes to households with children, that rate increases to near one in five. Those rates rank Kentucky as 12th in the state, with the number one spot being the worst for hunger, according to a new study released by the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC), a national anti-hunger advocacy group.

How Hungry is America? provides data on food hardship -- the inability to afford enough food-- nationally, for every state, the District of Columbia, and 108 Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) across the country. The report is based on 337,690 interviews in 2016-2017, according to a news release.

"We really want people to know about it and get fired up about it," said Kate McDonald, KY Kids Eat coordinator at the Kentucky Association of Food Banks in Berea. "The only way we can make change is to make awareness. We want people to feel empowered to make that change with us."

There are a number of factors McDonald attributes to families struggling to afford food in Kentucky, such as the unemployment rate and stagnant wages.

Another factor is that one in 12 children who receive a free lunch at school have access to a summer meal, McDonald said.

"That really affects Kentucky kids," she added.

However, McDonald said the commonwealth's rate of families didn't change much from the previous years.

"It is very bad when comparing it to other states," McDonald said. "But it isn't that bad when comparing it to other years."

But, there's still a lot to be concerned about, according to McDonald, including that eight counties in Kentucky reported 30 percent of households with children couldn't afford enough food.

In addition, she said there are charities and nonprofits who see numbers go up when it comes to helping fight hunger, but the percentage of households reporting not having enough food stays the same over the years.

"It's really concerning for us that even though all our food banks are feeding more people … our top nutrition organizations are reaching out to more households, we're still seeing the same number of families needing food," McDonald said.

And she said hunger is a problem in every community in the commonwealth.

"Food hardship affects people in every community in Kentucky, although it often goes unseen by those not looking for it," McDonald said in the news release. "Hunger can hide behind doors of nice houses with mortgages in default, with all of the income going to housing costs, leaving little or no money for food. Sometimes it hides behind the stoic faces of parents who skip meals to protect their children from hunger."

McDonald also explained that hunger isn't necessarily where people think it is.

"A lot of these families are having to make decisions ... between food and medicine, food and paying the bills, and the quality of the food," she said. As a coping mechanism, many families will buy cheaper, inexpensive food as opposed to healthy options.

However, McDonald said there are several ways people can help fight hunger.

"There are lots of people on the ground doing this work," McDonald said. "There are schools and nonprofits that offer food during the summer."

She also said there are food banks and charities working together to help combat the problem, including just knowing where children can get a meal.

McDonald said there's a texting service families can subscribe to by texting "food" to 877877, and it'll prompt them to enter the address. Then, the service will inform the user of the closest spots to help with food struggles.

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Reach Sara Kuhl at 624-6626; follow her on Twitter @saraekuhl.

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