HUNGER IN AMERICA: The Growing Epidemic by Physician Task Force

HUNGER IN AMERICA: The Growing Epidemic

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Hunger, which had been virtually wiped out by 1977, again stalks the land; and the authors lay the blame squarely on the shoulders of a ""mean-spirited"" federal government. ""Today our leaders have permitted poverty to reach record levels and then cut back on programs which help our citizens endure economic hardship. As a result, America has become a 'soup kitchen society.'"" They do point out that the situation is not as bad as in 1967 when a similar study found poverty-related malnutrition and its grisly handmaidens--low resistance to infection, anemia, high infant mortality and so on--endemic throughout the South and Appalachia. It was this study that inspired the ""War on Poverty"" with its panoply of programs--food stamps, Aid to Dependent Children, school lunches and breakfasts, etc.--that had made hunger in America ""a thing of the past"" to the delighted surprise of a 1977 study group. Today these programs have been seriously curtailed except for a ""safety net for the truly needy."" But, in all the areas visited--the Deep South, the Mid-Atlantic, the Southwest and the Midwest--the Physician Task Force found that the safety net was inadequate, extremely difficult to latch onto, and often withheld from hungry people. The mega-statistics are chilling. An estimated 20-million people go hungy at least part of every month. One-half of America's impoverished families receive no food stamps. Three-million needy children were lopped off the food lunch program in 1982. A Minnesota study among poor people found that 13% of the infants, 21% of the children and 33% of the adults suffered from anemia. In just one Chicago public hospital, 368 people were admitted for tuberculosis in 1983, up 32% in one year. This same hospital has begun to see one or two cases a month of kwashiorkor and marasmum, Third-World diseases of advanced malnutrition and starvation. These statistics reveal ""a public health crisis which threatens a significant segment of our population,"" and the task force calls for Washington to stop playing Russian roulette with the nation's health and restore the cuts that have decimated the programs. They would increase food stamp benefits by 25% to offset inflation and also ""terminate administrative policies which harass and otherwise prevent needy eligible citizens from receiving food stamp assistance."" They would make net rather than gross income the yardstick for food stamp eligibility, and would help the ""New Poor"" by striking the provision that denies food to people who own homes or a car with a market value of over $4,500. They also call for creation of a permanent, independent agency to monitor America's nutritional status. For the long term, they want a study commission ""to recommend legislative changes to protect all our citizens from the ravages of poverty and its attendant ills in the future."" Sobering and chilling view of America's dark underside.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1985
Publisher: Wesleyan Univ. Press-dist. by Harper & Row