Hunger amid plenty

March 26, 1991

Throughout the 1980s, stories of hungry children became increasingly common. But these were just stories -- "anecdotal evidence" -- and didn't necessarily prove the existence of a widespread problem. Now, however, the stories can no longer be dismissed as unsupported anecdotes.

The release of a new nationwide study of hunger documents in chilling detail the existence of hunger in a land of plenty. Known as the Community Childhood Hunger Identification Project (CCHIP), the study found that nationally, 5.5 million children under 12 -- one in eight -- are hungry, with another six million at risk. The Maryland Food Committee estimates that in this state 61,000 children are hungry, with another 65,000 at risk.

Hungry children are more prone to health problems -- usually at two or three times the rate experienced by well-fed children. Hunger also takes its toll on mental development and on progress in school. It's hard to concentrate on multiplication tables when your stomach is growling and you're daydreaming about food.

One of the distressing findings is the struggle of the working poor -- the endless battle to stretch paychecks to cover shelter, clothing and food. Sometimes, the money just won't go that far. When that happens parents are likely to neglect their own hunger in order to give their children more food. Families with no steady paycheck face even worse odds. They can routinely expect to skip meals and go to bed hungry six to seven days a month.

The tragedy is that hunger doesn't have to happen. There are effective ways in which this rich country can see that all children have the nutrition they need to grow up strong and healthy, with the energy it takes to concentrate and succeed in school.

Perhaps the prime example of the lack of political will to fight hunger is WIC (Special Supplemental Food Program for Women, Infants and Children). This program's effectiveness has been proven beyond doubt, yet its funding is still inadequate to cover all eligible low-income women and children. Likewise, school breakfast programs summer food programs and food programs for children who are not in school should be made more available, and the food stamp program can be made vastly more accessible.

Hunger does not have to exist in this country. Stamping it out is not so much a question of money as of exerting the political will to ensure that American children have enough to eat.

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