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Boston Doctors Report Many More Hungry, Dangerously Thin Children

An article in yesterday’s Boston Globe sheds light on a heartbreaking trend: childhood hunger, right here in the United States. According to doctors at a prominent Boston hospital, the percentage of “significantly underweight” children seen in the emergency room rose from 12% to 18% in just three years (2007 to 2010), while the number of families with children who reported not having enough food to eat rose from 18% to 28% in the same time period. And there’s more:

BMC has also seen a 58 percent increase, from 24 in 2005 to 38 in 2010, in the number of severely underweight babies under the age of 1 who were referred by family physicians to its Grow Clinic, where doctors provide intensive nutritional, medical, and other services to boost babies’ growth. Such malnourishment is similar to what is more typically seen in developing countries, Sandel said.

According to the article, chronic hunger during the toddler years can lead to learning, psychological, and social impairments, and has even been linked to obesity later in life. “Food insecurity” – when a family regularly runs out of food before they can afford to buy more – is now said to affect as many as one in four American families.

The Boston Globe article points out that complex enrollment processes and under-funded and under-staffed social services agencies often prevent eligible families from receiving aid like food stamps. Food pantries and soup kitchens have seen a huge uptick in need in recent years, and are often unable to meet demand.

Funding for social programs is a political hot topic right now, and conversations about hunger in America all too often devolve into nasty fights and generalizations about the recipients of food stamps and other forms of government aid.  But regardless of where we all lie politically, only the truly heartless could be unconcerned with the idea of a child going hungry. I know this story has inspired me to invest time and energy into helping reduce the “invisible hunger” that is happening in my own community. Does the answer lie in better food education? A more streamlined aid process? Or local communities pulling together to address need in their backyard? Probably all of the above.

If you’re looking for ways you can help ease hunger close to home, check with your local food pantry or visit FeedingAmerica.org for ideas and resources.

photo credit: pasukaru76 on Flickr

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