Boston Doctors See Increase In Number Of Hungry Children

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As lawmakers weigh cuts to the federally funded, state-administered food stamp program known as SNAP, some Boston-area doctors say the number of hungry children in Massachusetts is skyrocketing.

Patient surveys at Boston Medical Center’s emergency department show that 18 percent of children under the age of 3 were significantly underweight last year — a number that’s been rising for three years.

The economic downturn is largely to blame for the rise in malnutrition, according to Dr. Deborah Frank, who treats malnourished children as the director of BMC’s Grow Clinic for Children.

“What’s going on in the economy is being written on the bodies of the babies,” Frank said.

Many of the parents who bring their children to the clinic are unemployed or underemployed and just don’t make enough to adequately feed their families.

“What’s going on in the economy is being written on the bodies of the babies.”

Dr. Deborah Frank, BMC Grow Clinic for Children

With the country focused on tightening the federal government’s belt, Frank is worried that SNAP’s federal funding could be heavily cut. That, Frank said, would only hurt vulnerable children.

“People talk about budget deficits to the next generation, but I’m worried about deficits right now in their brains and their bodies,” Frank said.

SNAP — the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — is a vital public health program, according to Frank.

“I don’t understand why people think that babies have personal responsibility for an economy with 9 to 10 percent unemployment and many more who are underemployed,” Frank said.

Child hunger in much of the Boston-area is a largely invisible problem, even as the hospital has seen a huge rise in the number of infants treated at the Grow Clinic.

“Very young children don’t march, don’t call talk shows, they’re invisible to everybody except their parents and their health providers,” Frank said. “They’re also just uniquely vulnerable.”

After working on undernourished children in the Boston-area for more than 30 years, Frank thought she’d seen huge gains. But the recession changed all of that.

“We thought we were making marginal gains and that there might be a brighter future,” Frank said. “If you look at the poverty numbers, the child poverty numbers, we have lost it all. We’re back to where we were 30 years ago.”

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This program aired on July 28, 2011.


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