June 14, 2005
This AFP story doesn’t seem to have made it into the mainstream media:
Increasing numbers of young American children are showing signs of serious malnourishment, fueled by a greater prevalence of hunger in the United States, while, paradoxically, two-thirds of the US population is either overweight or obese.
In 2003, 11.2 percent of families in the United States experienced hunger, compared with 10.1 percent in 1999, according to most recent official figures, released on National Hunger Awareness Day held this year on Tuesday, June 7.
Some pediatricians worry that cuts in welfare aid proposed in President George W. Bush’s 2006 budget will only exacerbate the situation. By contrast Bush plans to keep tax cuts for more affluent sectors of the population, they note.
Dr. Deborah Frank, a professor of pediatrics at Boston University’s School of Medicine, runs a clinic for malnourished babies:
“We are seeing more and more very young babies under a year of age which is a particular concern because they are most likely to die of under nutrition, and also their brains are growing very very rapidly,” said Frank, in a telephone interview.
“A baby’s brain increases 2.5 times in size in the first year of life,” she says, adding that if the baby fails to get the nutritional building blocks he or she needs for the brain to develop, a child can have lifelong difficulties in behaviour and learning.
And as malnourished kids get older, their junk-food diet makes things worse:
Joel Berg, executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, probably put it best when he said, “Hunger and obesity are often the flip sides of the same coin.” Hunger and obesity both increase when families cannot afford to purchase the most nutritious food possible.
In many areas of the U.S., produce and other healthy foods are particularly expensive. When a family is living on a tight budget, junk food (“filler food”) or fast food is usually easier and cheaper to buy than nutritious food. Some of the poorest children are also overweight; eating junk food is a way to fill up and, unfortunately, also put on empty pounds. This means that many poor people who look overfed are actually malnourished.
If a society is measured by how well it takes care of its poorest citizens, then Bush’s America doesn’t measure up.
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