Eating Healthy — if you can

We all know we need to eat healthy. Just turn on the TV or open a magazine. From the “Eat This, Not That” guy to the glut of health reporters, dietitians and celebrity chefs trying to help us all figure it out, we know healthy eating is important. After all, three-quarters of American adults are overweight or obese. So this should be easy, right?

Not necessarily. Access to food and hunger is a big issue in this country. More than 16 million children in America are at risk of hunger. That’s more than one in five children who are not sure where their next meal is coming from. Child hunger is not just a health issue. It’s a social and developmental issue. Children who are hungry are often more prone to illness, more like to ultimately be obese later in life and more likely to have highly levels of behavioral, emotional and academic problems. How can we expect to raise the next generation of confident, strong, successful Americans when as children, they are not getting their basic food needs during their developmental years?

The Food Network has partnered with Share Our Strength, an organization dedicated to eradicating childhood hunger. On April 14th, the Food Network aired a documentary about childhood hunger in America through the eyes of three families in Texas, Virginia and New York City. If you missed it, you can watch it online. It will air again on the Food Network on April 21st at 6:00 p.m. EDT/5:00 p.m. CDT and April 23rd at 10:00 a.m. EDT/9:00 a.m. CDT.

Eradicating childhood hunger is an investment in our future. Our children need to be strong of mind and body to compete in the global economy. So look at it as a future investment.

But let’s also look at it in more immediate terms. We tend think of food insecurity as an inner city problem or a rural issue. But food insecurity abounds in well-to-do, suburban communities. It can be someone in your child’s classroom. We know the health implications. Children who struggle with hunger are more likely experience headaches, stomachaches, colds, ear infections and fatigue. But the emotional and social impact is much deeper. As the documentary showed, children at risk of hunger feel shame and insecurity. According to Share Our Strength, children who regularly do not get enough nutritious food to eat can be more aggressive and anxious. Teens who regularly do not get enough to eat have difficulty getting along with other kids.

This is a community issue. Let’s look at it from the perspective of one child in one class. Have you ever wondered about the root cause of a child’s behavior? The disruptive child in your son’s class may not be a bad kid. He may be hungry and struggling to concentrate. He may be anxious, reflecting his parents’ anxiety about being unable to provide nutritious food at home. Imagine the positive impact — if this one child could become food secure, he/she could thrive in school, improve social ties and the entire class can benefit. Now replace the word “classroom” for “community” and the possibilities grow exponentially.

Health is a group effort that directly impacts the happiness and productivity of a community. It’s a daunting challenge to tackle. But I’m going to start by picking up some extra food at the supermarket today for my church’s food pantry.