Friday, September 11, 2009

Effects of poverty, food, insecurity, and hunger on children.

One of my new friends is Lee Michelson, CEO of the Sequoia Healthcare District. Lee and the Sequoia Healthcare District support the work of Collective Roots and invited me to attend the reception of the new CEO for the Second Harvest Food Bank (Kathryn Jackson) last night in San Jose. The guest speaker was John Cook, a Professor from Boston University Pediatrics who spoke eloquently about the effects of poverty, food, insecurity, and hunger on children.

Dr. Cook

Dr. Cook's talk was inspiring and reminded me of where my own career roots began 30+ years ago working for the Interfaith Hunger Coalition in Los Angeles.

Dr. Cook spoke eloquently about the effects of the lack of healthy food and hunger on children. Here are a few highlights:

"My pediatrician colleagues at Boston Medical Center tell me that they see the results of hunger written on the bodies of their patients."

"Food insecurity, which means essentially lack of access to enough healthy food for a healthy life, is an economic problem and its not just an economic problem for the families because they can't afford enough food, it is a economic problem for you and for me because those children who are suffering from hunger are not learning, they are going to school hungry, and they are not attaining the same level of educational attainment if they weren't hungry and they are having behavior problems, they are acting out, having what we call externalizing problems and internalizing problems and having a higher level of disease called dysthymmia which is basically a kind of depression which leads too often to suicidal ideation and in some cases actual suicidal attempts and they also do basically worse in school than if they were adequately fed."

"We know that if these children are adequately fed and nourished and they have the kind of supportive environments that they need they will start kindergarten ready to learn, and if they start kindergarten ready to learn, they will do better in the first few years of school, the will do better in middle school, they will do better in high school, they will be much more likely to finish school, and they will be much more likely to go on and get a college education. All of that will lead to being much more functional members of society, being better employees, for all of you that have businesses, lower health care costs for your businesses, lower labor costs overall, and higher performance by your employees. All of this because we are able to feed children the kinds and amounts of food they need in the first few years of their life. I know this sounds oversimplified, but it is true. Some of the most important research that has been done over the last ten years has been done on brain biology and brain growth and it has been very clearly shown that the food and nutrition environment that a child secures in the first few years of life can actually change in very radical ways that child's brain architecture."

"I want you understand that hunger is a moral issue and we shouldn't tolerate it, but its also an economic issue, its a health issue, and its an economic issue because it is a health issue."

"There are 12.5 million children in the U.S. in food insecure households."

"We don't have to tolerate this, we have solved much more difficult problems."

"We are a capable and industrious people and we know how to solve the problem of childhood hunger--we absolutely know how to do that, and we have a chance to do it now."

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