Thursday, June 16, 2005

Hunger among U.S. children

A commenter on an earlier post in this weblog links us to Slate's Kausfiles on Tuesday, which tears into recent reports of hunger among U.S. children:
"More babies, young kids going hungry in US" That's the headline of an Agence France-Presse story. There's a similar headline on the link in HuffPo--"More U.S. Kids Going Hungry While 2/3 of Population is Overweight." But if you read the story all the way through, it turns out that the kids aren't going hungry. They're malnourished, which is not quite the same thing (and not unrelated to obesity).
I don't think Kaus uses the term "malnourished" in any technical sense. It is certainly not true that the U.S. food security statistics are based on questions about eating junk food and so forth. Out of 18 questions, there is one question about affording balanced meals and another about feeding children just a few low-cost foods, but most of the survey items are about going without.

But Kaus is not alone in criticizing the current use of the term "hunger" for the type hardship found in the United States, which is characterized by adequate calories during most times, punctuated by episodes of food crisis. Perhaps under pressure from the Office of Management and Budget, USDA last year contracted with a National Academies of Science committee to reconsider several hunger measurement issues. That committee's report said the term "hunger" should be studied further, a recommendation that generated some interesting debate, which we covered earlier. My comment in Slate's Fray, pointing out this larger political context that Kaus did not mention, already has some discussion in response.

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