Why 2050 America Could Look Stunted
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Parental hunger in the current generation of Americans threatens to hobble the next one.
Since 2006, the U.S. government has preferred “food insecure” to “hunger” when referring to families without enough to eat. The picture appeared to be improving when the Department of Agriculture last year announced that the fraction of food-insecure families had dropped — admittedly marginally — from 12 percent to 11 percent, in part because of what was then a booming economy and school meal programs.
But the coronavirus pandemic, the deepest recession in decades and closed schools threaten to dramatically change that. Already, 1 in 5 American children weren’t getting enough to eat in 2019, according to the No Kid Hungry campaign operated by the Washington, D.C.–based nonprofit Share Our Strength.
The coronavirus pandemic has “upended those numbers and the situation has grown much more dire,” says Esubalew Dadi, the campaign’s senior manager of policy analysis.
New research by Harvard scientists points to how parental undernutrition could hobble the health prospects of the next generation.
Across 35 countries with widespread malnutrition, poor maternal nutrition status is the single biggest contributing factor to stunting in children.
The scientists’ research didn’t include the U.S. — most of the countries they studied are in Africa and Asia. But experts expect America’s child hunger challenge to amplify in a post-pandemic world as families grapple with closed businesses, wage cuts, furloughs and job losses. The Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that the American economy lost 20.5 million jobs in April alone, with the unemployment rate hovering near 15 percent.
New analysis by Columbia University economist Brendan O’Flaherty suggests that homelessness could increase by 45 percent within a year. “The coronavirus has caused a catastrophic health crisis around the globe [and] … is creating an economic crisis that will push millions of families with children into poverty and hunger here in the United States,” Dadi warns.
The U.S. government has been disbursing stimulus checks and business loans from a $3 trillion relief package, while humanitarian campaigns like No Kid Hungry are chipping away at the meal deficit. Share Our Strength provides millions of meals three times a day at 39,000 sites through grants to local organizations on the ground.
“Since the start of the pandemic, we’ve given $13.3 million to 572 organizations across all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico,” says Dadi. “Those organizations are planning to serve an estimated 6.4 million meals per day.”
Still these efforts could ultimately prove inadequate in stemming the inter-generational transfer of malnutrition. In 2018, the federal food stamp program catered to 56 percent of food-insecure households nationwide. But Trump’s 2021 budget proposed cutting funding for the program by $180 billion.
As America shudders under extreme economic distress, at stake is the nutrition of its next generation.