WASHINGTON - U.S. agriculture officials said Monday that the nation's 15 federal nutrition programs helped keep hunger in check in 2009 even as the number of unemployed Americans soared.

After a record one-year increase from 2007 to 2008, the number of U.S. households facing food shortages increased only slightly last year to roughly 17.4 million, according to a new report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The share of households with members who went hungry or cut their food intake because of money also held steady in 2009, albeit at the highest levels since the data were first collected in 1995.

That stabilization in the growth of "food insecurity" was the silver lining in the otherwise-bleak report, "Household Food Security in the United States, 2009."

The annual survey found that 85.3 percent of U.S. households had enough food for all their members in 2009, about the same share as in 2008.

But more than 50 million Americans - or 16.6 percent - had problems getting adequate nutrition last year. The rates varied widely across states depending on economic conditions. Arkansas had the highest percentage of food-insecure households, at 17.7, followed by Texas (17.4) and Mississippi (17.1). North Dakota had the lowest rate (6.7), followed by New Hampshire (9.0) and Virginia (9.2).

Of the 50 million food-insecure people, 32.5 million lacked money or resources for meals at some point last year, but few of them reported reduced food intake overall.

But the other 17.7 million food-insecure individuals reported multiple instances of inadequate nutrition and disrupted eating patterns because they couldn't afford meals. These people with "very low food security" were up from 17.3 million in 2008. They account for about 6 percent of all Americans.

"(The report) underscores that household food insecurity remains a serious problem across the United States," said Kevin Concannon, undersecretary for food, nutrition and consumer services at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.