Child hunger, called the 'silent epidemic,' is an increasingly complex problem
By Amy Goldstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 12, 2009
PHILADELPHIA -- Three weeks before he was elected president, Barack Obama set an audacious goal: end hunger among children in the United States by 2015.
Since his inauguration, Obama has seldom broached the subject. His aides brainstorm weekly with several agencies, but their internal conversations so far have not produced fundamentally new approaches. The president's goal could prove daunting: Childhood hunger is more complex than previously understood, new research suggests, and is unlikely to be solved simply by spending more money for food programs.
If Obama intends to erase childhood hunger, the government will need to reach even further into the rowhouse kitchen where Anajyha Wright Mitchell sometimes takes tiny portions so her mother will have more food. "I tell her to eat, eat, eat, because she is real skinny," Anajyha, 12, said of her mother, Andrea Mitchell.
Anajyha, a serious girl with two younger brothers and a mother who has lost two of her three part-time jobs, is growing up with an ebb and flow of food typical of a growing number of families. In her home, in a scuffed neighborhood called Strawberry Mansion a few miles north of the Liberty Bell, food stamps arrive but never last the month. There can be cereal but no milk. Pancake mix and butter but no eggs.
The intricacy of the problem -- and of the Obama administration's task -- plays out here, where Anajyha could have enough to eat but shortchanges herself.
Philadelphia offers a particularly vivid ground-level view of what researchers call a "silent epidemic" of hungry and undernourished youngsters. For years, local civic activists, health experts and politicians have tried some of the nation's most innovative experiments -- and learned how intractable hunger can be. Researchers here have also been at the leading edge in trying to fathom the effects of a scarcity of food.
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