glenn ellis

Glenn Ellis

*In many ways, America is the land of plenty. But for 1 in 6 people in the United States, hunger is a reality. Many people believe that the problems associated with hunger are confined to small pockets of society, certain areas of the country, or certain neighborhoods, but the reality is much different.

Right now, millions of Americans are struggling with hunger.  These are often hard-working adults, children and seniors who simply cannot make ends meet and are forced to go without food for several meals, or even days.

The nation’s economic crisis has catapulted the number of Americans who lack enough food to the highest level since the government has been keeping track, according to a new federal report, which shows that nearly 50 million people — including almost one child in four — struggled last year to get enough to eat.

The consequences of having such a poor and hungry place in its midst can be catastrophic for a city, whose young people risk being developmentally compromised by a dearth of nutritious food in their first years.

Hunger is the most commonly used term to describe the social condition of people (or organisms) who frequently experience, or live with the threat of experiencing, the physical sensation of desiring food.    People with malnutrition lack the nutrients necessary for their bodies to grow and stay healthy. Someone can be malnourished for a long or short period of time, and the condition may be mild or severe. Malnutrition can affect someone’s physical and mental health. People who are suffering from malnutrition are more likely to get sick; in very severe cases, they may even die from its effects. The truth of the matter is that certain groups experience food insecurity at far higher rates than the rest of the U.S. population.  According to USDA, the rate of household and child “food insecurity” among African-Americans and Hispanics is more than twice as high as that of whites.

Food insecurity is associated with a variety of negative physical health outcomes:

  1. Food      insecure adults between the ages of 18 and 65and seniors over age      65 may receive fewer nutrients, which may hinder their ability to live a      full and active life.
  2. Food      insecurity is associated with lower scores on physical and mental health      exams.[
  3. Food      insecure adults have an increased risk of developing diabetes.
  4. Food      insecurity is associated with a range of chronic illnesses such as      hypertension, hyperlipidemia, and various cardiovascular risk factors.
  5. Food      insecurity in adults has a demonstrated relationship with a number of      mental health issues and human behavior problems.
  6. Food      insecure adults may experience higher levels of aggression and anxiety.
  7. Food      insecurity has also been correlated with slower developing social skills.

As certain segments of our society, look, with critical opinions, on the behaviors and conditions that some of US display, maybe a closer look would reveal the degree to which equity issues around food are to blame.

“Why don’t they just make healthier choices with what little food they have?”

Even when the poor do attempt to eat healthy, it hurts us. A study published earlier this year in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine showed that so-called “fresh” fruits and vegetables and ground beef found in poor neighborhood groceries were more likely to be covered in bacteria and have higher mold and contaminant counts than those found in wealthier areas. In fact, people who have plenty to eat may still be malnourished if they don’t eat food that provides the right nutrients, vitamins, and minerals.

A nutritious diet can help one climb out of poverty or homelessness, but poverty (and homelessness) makes it nearly impossible to maintain a nutritious diet. While some of the rich and skinny continue to condemn low-income Americans for being obese, I challenge them to come up a plan for eating healthy on $15 a week. I’d also like to see them design a menu that a single mother working two or three jobs can fix in four to eight minutes!

To better understand the senselessness of this madness, here are some surprising facts about the food supply in America:

  1. 40-50%      of all food ready for harvest never gets eaten. Research      done by a professor at the University of Arizona has shown that nearly      half the food produced in the United States every year goes to waste.      While news of our throw-away society isn’t necessarily surprising, that so      much of what we produce is wasted while millions in our own nation and      those around the world go hungry should be appalling.
  2. Every      year, over 25% of Americans get sick from what they eat. This      means some 76 million food borne infections, 350,000 of which require      hospitalization and 5,000 of which are deadly. Think your food is safe?
  3. As      few as 13 major corporations control nearly all of the slaughterhouses in      the U.S. Why should you care? Because these major      corporations pack a lot of political power, making them incredibly      difficult to regulate and inspect.
  4. Americans      eat 31% more packaged food than fresh food. This      means that Americans eat more packaged and processed food than people in      any other country, according to the New York Times. Packaged foods      themselves aren’t necessarily bad for us, but Americans tend to consume      frozen pizzas and microwave dinners, which can be high in fats and salts.
  5. A      simple frozen dinner can contains ingredients from over 500 different      suppliers. NPR has shown that a basic frozen prepared      meal can contain up to 50 different ingredients. These ingredients come      from all over the world, changing hands numerous times along the way. This      means that in order to trust that your food is safe; you have to trust      that all of those hundreds of companies along the way stuck to regulations      about food safety.
  6. 50%      of tested samples of high fructose corn syrup tested for mercury. There      has been a lot of debate about the safety and health of high fructose corn      syrup lately, and some believe with pretty good reason. HFCS is found in a      wide range of food products from bread to catsup.
  7. Americans      eat about six to nine pounds of chemical food additives per year. While      it may seem that the amount of chemicals you’re eating in your food is      inconsequential, over the year they add up. Some may be harmless to you,      but others may have effects that are yet unknown over a long period of      time.
  8. Food      intolerance is on the rise, with as many as 30 million people in the U.S.      showing symptoms. Some believe that the growth in food      allergies and food intolerance may have to do with our diets. Eating      yeast-based foods, preserved meats and processed foods can lead to greater      levels of histamine in the body which many people are incapable of      processing naturally.
  9. Fewer      than 27% of Americans eat the correct ratio of meats to vegetables. Studies      have shown that eating too much meat increases your cancer risk, a fact      reinforced by the longer life span of cultures that focus more heavily on      veggies than meats. By not eating enough of these vegetables, many Americans      are missing out on the healthy nutrients, minerals and compounds they      contain.

It’s time to educate ourselves about the causes of hunger in America.

Take good care of yourself and live the best life possible!

The information included in this column is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. The reader should always consult his or her healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for their own situation or if they have any questions regarding a medical condition or treatment plan.

Glenn Ellis, is a Health Advocacy Communications Specialist. He is the author of Which Doctor?, and Information is the Best Medicine. A health columnist and radio commentator who lectures, nationally and internationally on health related topics, Ellis is an active media contributor on Health Equity and Medical Ethics.

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