One in Eight Children in Households With Insufficient Food, Study Finds

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The Food Research and Action Center, which released the report here last week, said the national study represented the most comprehensive effort so far to measure the extent of childhood hunger.

"Perhaps the ultimate tragedy of hunger is that it is wholly preventable," said Robert Fersh, FRAC's executive director. "We have more than enough food in this country to ensure that every child is properly fed."

The study, which took two years and cost about $1 million, is based on surveys conducted in seven states. A representative sample of 2,335 low-income families with children under age 12 were interviewed about their eating patterns.

The study defined hunger as "the mental and physical condition that comes from not eating enough food due to insufficient economic, family, or community resources." No attempt was made to identify the extent of childhood malnutrition, which is considered a medically diagnosable condition.

Families were asked such questions as: "Does your family ever run out of money to buy food to make a meal?" and "Do any of your children ever go to bed hungry because there is not enough money to buy food?"

Families that answered "yes" to five or more of eight key questions were considered to be "hungry." Those that answered "yes" to at least one question were classified as being "at risk of a hunger problem."

In addition to the children in the survey who were classified as being "hungry," an additional one child in eight was found to be "at risk" of developing a hunger problem. Extrapolating the survey results to the national level, FRAC estimated that nearly 5.5 million children are hungry and about 6 million more are at risk of becoming hungry.

The federal government does not collect statistics on hunger, which social scientists in the past have found to be a particularly difficult subject to measure accurately.

The report found that hungry households have insufficient amounts of food an average of one week a month, and nearly one-third of hungry households have these food shortages every month.

Hungry households, the survey found, spent an average of 68 cents per person per meal. The average American family of four spends nearly twice as much per person per meal.

Children who are hungry, the report notes, are much more likely to suffer from fatigue, frequent headaches, colds, and ear infections, and to need medical attention, than other children. And hungry children are absent from school an average of one and a half more days a year than their classmates, the report found.

The report's release was timed to coincide with a new campaign by FRAC and about 90 religious, advocacy, and child-welfare groups to encourage the passage of the "Mickey Leland childhood hunger relief act," which was adopted by the House last year but did not survive last fall's budget agreement. The bill would increase funding for the food-stamp program and the Special Supplemental Food Program for Women, Infants, and Children, or WIC.

In the report, about one-third of the families participating in WIC and the food-stamp program indicated that they were hungry. And while virtually all of those surveyed were eligible to participate in the programs, a substantial majority said they were not receiving these benefits.

The report also recommends an expansion of the school-breakfast and -lunch program.

Mr. Fersh said his group's entire agenda would cost about $15 billion to implement, on top of the roughly $30 billion now spent by the federal government on feeding programs.

Vol. 10, Issue 28, Page 13

Published in Print: April 3, 1991, as One in Eight Children in Households With Insufficient Food, Study Finds
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