Hidden Hunger

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Hidden Hunger

Sarah Jane Schwarzenberg, M​​D, FAAP
​Oct. 23, 2015​​


As we go about our job​s, shop for groceries, pick up our kids at school, we don't know which people we meet are hungry. People who are food insecure are often ashamed, and hide it. They look just like us​—they are not wasted, starving, semi-skeletons. It is easy to forget that, on average, 1 out of 5 of the childre​​n in our communities is food insecure.


That point was driven home to me when I was seeing a charming 8-year-old girl for obesity in my clinic. Her dad, a well-dressed, well-mannered man, also obese, was desperate to help​ his daughter. We educated them and strategized changes in her diet over three or four visits. Finally, I asked why, knowing what we were discussing, he persisted in giving his daughter cookies and pop. He started crying. He told me about his own childhood, on a poor farmstead in Minnesota. He often went hungry the whole day, or went to bed hungry. The memories of that time haunted him and he found himself unable to deny his daughter any food if she told him she was "hungry." His own education and material success could not eradicate the deep impressions left by childhood hunger.​

 "It will take all of us working together to ensure our children do not go hungry."

Evidence tells us that food insecurity can lead to behavioral problems in school, to long-term deficiencies, and to adult health problems. The effects are pervasive and span generations. The pain of this father—his miserable childhood, his perceived failure to prevent in his child the obesity he suffered himself—remains for me the most powerful symbol of the need to fight for better conditions for children today. It will take all of us working together—connecting our patients to community resources, screening for food security in our offices, advocating to strengthen federal nutrition and food access programs—to ensure our children do not go hungry. 

Ab​out the Author


Dr. Sarah Jane Schwarzen​berg is a pediatric gastroenterologist and hepatologist at the Univer​sity of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hos​pital in Minneapolis. She is a member of the AAP Committee on Nutrition. Her primary research interests are gastrointestinal and nutritional complications of cystic fibrosis and chronic pancreatitis.​