World Food Day Reminds Us of Hunger’s Enduring Health Challenge at Home

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It’s World Food Day, and congratulations are in order for the global community working on hunger for the progress that has been made.  According to a study released this week and covered in today’s Washington Post, overall hunger in developing countries has fallen 27 percent in the last 15 years.  It has been halved in 17 countries.  That is indisputably good news.   The article rightly focuses on the 44 countries who still have too many malnourished citizens.

But there is one thing it doesn’t mention that we cannot lose sight of.  While the calorie deficit has been almost fully addressed in the developed world, far too many low income people here and across the country aren’t able to access the right kind of food. They must often rely on fast, cheap calories that stave off a growling stomach but deliver very few nutrients.

The result is an insidious, often invisible kind of hunger, defined by chronic undernourishment, obesity, and diet-related illnesses like diabetes and heart disease.

A teen who eats a honey bun for breakfast, fast food for lunch, and a bag of chips for dinner, for example, will spend about $7 for food.  Along with very high amounts of salt and sugar, she will consume more than the kilocalories necessary to produce energy for a day, some of which will likely be stored as fat.  But her cells are not being infused with the vitamin A, B, C, E, and riboflavin she needs. She lacks the protein required to keep muscle tissue strong and to fight infection (which can mean the difference between attending school or not).  She may well be overweight or obese – precisely because she is hungry.

Right here in Washington DC, about 700,000 people struggle to put food on the table.  The challenge for them is to not only secure food, but ultimately to secure the resources that enable them to provide healthy food to their families – and in the interim to get access to food that will help them thrive and be well, rather than contribute to disease and poor nourishment. 

On this World Food Day, we need to keep acknowledging the very real progress that so many have contributed to, while we keep our eye sharply on the remaining challenge. 

 

world hunger graphic