"Eliminating Hunger in the U.S."
(The following article by Jim Weill of the Food Research and Action Center was originally published in USA Today's "Hunger in America" supplement on September 17, 2010.)
The problems of hunger and food insecurity are farmore widespread in our country than many realize, and their damage is significant for children and for adults, for our nation's health and educational systems and outcomes, for our nation's productivity, and for the economy as a whole and our fiscal well-being.
The latest official data from the Census Bureau and the U.S. Department of Agriculture are for 2008, and they tell us that 49 million people were living in households facing food insecurity--the government phrase for families struggling with hunger. More than 16.7 million were children.
Solving this problem is essential because the damage is so great. Maternal undernutrition increases the risk of certain birth defects and contributes to low infant birthweight. Food insecurity among very young children can cause stunted growth, iron deficiency, anemia and delayed cognitive development. Food insecurity harms children's physical growth and immune systems, causes weakened resistance to infection, and in both early childhood and the school years means that children lag their peers and learn less, and these learning deficits cumulate. Everyone suffers.
Food insecurity during the adult years means lower productivity, higher rates of hospitalization, and poorer health. And adult hunger also harms children. Often parents do everything they can to protect their children from hunger: the children eat first, and get "enough" to eat (though it may be filling but not an adequate, healthy diet because of resource constraints). But the parents go hungry to protect the children. The resulting stress and depression harm not only the parents but the children's health and proficiency.
What all this comes down to is that hunger and food insecurity not only are unnecessary in our wealthy nation, but they are vastly counterproductive to our nation's goals.
The good news is that we know what works to solve hunger in America: a strong economy with shared prosperity and rising wages for all; and common sense government supports for children, working age adults, and seniors who don't have enough income for a healthy diet. Those supports include the nation's nutrition programs--school lunch and breakfast; the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program; nutrition in summer and afterschool programs for children, and in child care; and food stamps (recently renamed "SNAP" for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). These programs already are boosting the health, early development, and productivity of millions of Americans.
But they need to do more. Often schools, cities, states, and the federal government don't take the actions needed to reach eligible people. Only two-thirds of those eligible actually receive SNAP/food stamps. Only 47 percent of eligible low-income children get school breakfast. And benefits in these programs often are not enough for purchasing healthy food.
If we make sure that there is more outreach and less red tape, millions more hungry people can get the benefits they so desperately need. And if the already strong programs are made more effective by making benefits adequate to meet the daily needs of hungry people, we can eliminate this unnecessary scourge of hunger in the U.S.
President Obama has pledged to end childhood hunger and dramatically reduce adult hunger by 2015. These are goals we can and must acheive.