“Let us never forget that we must not only plant our fields of dreams but also ensure that every person on earth has access to adequate nutritious and affordable food.”
Josette Sheeran, Executive Director, World Food Programme
According to Share our Strength, sixteen million children living in the United States do not know where their next meal will come from. The government implements many programs aimed at reducing food insecurity including the Food Stamp program (SNAP), the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and the National School Lunch Program, among others. Unfortunately, simply receiving a meal—and over 20 million children get a free or reduced-priced school lunch each day—isn’t enough to quell the debate about what those meals should consist of.
Movements like Fed Up with Lunch—an anonymous teacher who ate in her school cafeteria for a year and blogged about it—make the case for healthier food in America’s schools and won’t stop until grapes suspended Jell-O no longer count as a recommended daily fruit serving.
While the U.S. does not lack for healthy food options, 15.7 million children live in poverty. For their families, affordability of processed foods, accessibility and insufficient cooking skills still pose significant challenges. Food deserts—a region where healthy and affordable food is difficult to access—limits nutritious choices. For some families, a gas station mini-mart is the closest food outlet for miles.
Every day, 16,000 children die from hunger-related causes.
The facts are grim. Every day, one child dies every five seconds of hunger-related causes (about 16,000). The World Bank estimates that the rise in global food prices in 2008 followed by the global economic recession has pushed between 100-150 million people into poverty. In 2000, the United Nations created the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to achieve human development targets by 2015. At the top of the list: reducing hunger and poverty, two matters that have become somewhat inseparable.
Acute hunger or starvation are often highlighted in the media: hungry children with enlarged stomachs holding empty cups or helicopters airlifting rations to earthquake and flood victims. These situations are most often the result of war or natural disaster. While these circumstances starve entire populations of food, emergencies account for less than 8% of hunger’s victims.
A less visible form of hunger is the daily undernourishment that affects more people who are consistently living on less than the recommended number of calories the average person needs to remain healthy. An undernourished body compensates for lack of nutrients by slowing down mentally and physically, leading to reduced concentration and a basic desire to participate in daily activities. Hunger also weakens the immune system. Many people, especially children, do not actually die of hunger but of one of its many consequences like measles and diarrhea. Today, one in seven people do not get enough food to be healthy and lead an active life, making hunger and malnutrition the number one risk to health worldwide—greater than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined.