Three Hunger Words You Probably Misuse and Don’t Understand

Think about the time you last said that you “loved” a thing in your house like a new mixer or a garage door opener. Or, when you voiced a desire to “collapse” after work when you were just extra tired. Or even when you cried and cried about something that really wasn’t worth tears.

In American culture, we have a tendency to exaggerate how we feel.  We love strong and dramatic metaphors. We use words out of context all the time.

We say our ice cream is awesome and so are our mothers. We say we want to kill someone when we’re just slightly annoyed.  We say we’re starving because we didn’t eat lunch until 3 pm.

We’re all guilty of such contextual language errors.

When we talk about childhood hunger, many of us are  just as guilty of misusing words, or we’re just plain confused. We hear the term food security and wonder, ”Is this about keeping children safe? Or setting security guards around food supplies?” We’re not exactly sure what the difference is between a hungry child and one who is malnourished (though one does seem more severe), or between children who are malnourished and children who are stunted. And if they’re different, are those differences significant?

Feed the Children wants to defeat childhood hunger with advocates like you.  To do this, we’re taking some time to define some of these key terms so we can understand each other better and be better advocates.

Three Hunger Words infographic: malnourished, stunting, hunger
Copyright Feed the Children 2014

Malnutrition

When we think of this word, we often see visions of big bellies and children nearing death. But the term malnourished has a much broader definition.

According to UNICEF’s glossary of terms, a child suffers from “malnutrition” (or is “malnourished”) if his or her diet does not provide enough essential nutrients to grow and remain healthy or if they are unable to fully utilize the food they eat due to illness. (This is also called “undernutrition.”) We can also say a child is malnourished if the child becomes obese from consuming more calories than his or her body can use.

Malnutrition is the underlying cause of about 45 percent of all deaths among children under five in the countries where we work.

Weakened by malnutrition, these children have lower resistance to diseases such as pneumonia, diarrhea and malaria.  Children who are malnourished are much more likely to die from these diseases than children who are not.

Stunting

Most people think stunting is a word that refers to the size or height of a child. Just like malnourished, stunting is a term that covers much more than size.

UNICEF also provides us some guidance here when they say that stunting (or “chronic malnutrition”) can happen to a child if she does not consume enough essential nutrients over a long period of time. Stunting can start before a baby is even born if his/her mother doesn’t eat enough during her pregnancy. It can also start in the first months of life if the mother doesn’t eat well enough while breastfeeding or can’t feed the baby well enough other ways.

If a baby is malnourished for a long period of time, it doesn’t just stunt her physical growth. It can slow down her brain’s development, too. This makes it harder to learn and do well in school later on, and even can make it harder to earn a living as an adult.

Most tragic of all, if the child can’t get sufficient nutrition to stop and reverse the effects of stunting by the time he reaches the age of five, it’s too late. After age five, most of this damage to the child’s body and brain is permanent.

This is why we are focusing more and more on providing good nutrition for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers. The first 1000 days of a child’s life (from conception to the child’s second birthday) are critical in order for her to grow and thrive throughout her life.

In the countries where we work, between 20% and 45% of children under five are stunted (chronically malnourished). For this reason, Feed the Children, along with the World Health Organization, the World Bank, the US Agency for International Development, host country governments and the international NGO community, are working together to fight stunting. It’s the number one priority for our international food and nutrition work.

Hunger

The word “hunger” can mean different things to different people. We usually think of the feeling we get in the pit of our stomach, a craving, maybe a growl or pain, or when it’s worst, a feeling of lightheadedness.

At Feed the Children, we call a child “hungry” if she can’t get the food she needs, whether that happens for a few days every now and then, once a week, or every day. Children grow so fast that if they have to go without enough of the right kinds of food even just for a day or two, it can slow down their growth and their learning.

So if a child in New Orleans fills up on junk food because fresh veggies are sold too far away from her home, she¹s still “hungry” (even if her tummy doesn’t rumble) because she is not getting enough of the right kinds of food.

Or if a child in Malawi is fed only corn porridge every day to fill up his stomach, he’s still “hungry” because he won’t be able to grow right without the vitamins and minerals he should be getting from vegetables and milk.

That’s why we want to create a world where no child goes to bed hungry. Hunger means the body isn’t getting something it really needs, and when children are hungry, it’s a big deal.

What hunger words confuse you?

Straight Talk About Hunger in America

Today, we’re beginning a series of blog posts highlighting issues you’ve raised in your answers to the question, “What Would Jesus Undo?

Denise Sawyer is the woman behind the blog Wholesome Mommy. She’s a former teacher raising her family in rural Georgia, where grocery stores are few and far between and where many of her friends and neighbors are struggling to make ends meet. We spoke with Denise over the phone recently about her ongoing series, “Oh SNAP! Real Food on a Food Stamps Budget” in which she is spending 6 months learning to shop and cook healthy meals on a food stamp budget. The resources she has developed are phenomenal — she creates menu plans, shopping lists, and recipes for people on tight budgets with limited access to ingredients. And her mission is get these resources to as many people as possible, all without asking for a single dime in compensation for all her work.

WWJU-Thunderclap-Graphic-Turkana

We asked her to watch Michael Boggs’ new single, “What Would Jesus Undo?” and write a post about how she would answer the question. Here’s an excerpt of her response, Undo Hunger:

This is such a timely post for me. I just received a message on my facebook page from a single mother who said she has just found herself in a situation where she needed SNAP to feed herself and her two children.  She said, “I just received my EBT card in the mail and still feel embarrassed for even needing them.”  Why does she feel embarrassed?  Well, most of us would feel similarly, we all have pride we have to overcome and realizing and then having to ask for help is a humbling experience.  But honestly, its something more, its the way you are looked at in the store, the snide comments made about “those people,” and the facebook posts that we post without thinking about the REAL people in these situations.   I just saw one today.  And actually, it was posted by not one, but two of my friends, who have judged others for needing SNAP benefits.  It was a picture to two refrigerators – one brimming with food labeled as someone “with no job and welfare,” and one empty but for a single item, labeled as “hard working tax payer.”

Read her entire post in full here. (And don’t forget to get your free download of Michael Boggs’ new song!)

When Hard Times Come for American Families

When hard times come, we could all use a little safety net. We could all use a little help knowing that we won’t have to make the choice between keeping a roof over our heads and feeding our children. We could all use a little encouragement knowing that we aren’t alone—even if we feel this way.

Through our Americans Feeding Americans campaign, Feed the Children is doing just this for countless families who have fallen on hard times.

In December, our big trucks rolled through the rural South Georgia town of Sylvania, the county seat of Screven County (population 15,000). Screven ranks among the poorest counties in the state with at least 33% of its residents living below the poverty line. Sylvania is a forgotten town which took a big hit 20 years ago when all the major factories closed their doors and took most of the county’s jobs with them. With jobs not readily available for parents, one in three children here are at risk of going hungry on a daily basis.

It seemed like a perfect place for Feed the Children to lend a hand up of support—donating food and essential care products to over 800 households.

In Sylvania, we met a family who couldn’t help but say thank you and thank you over and over for what our assistance meant to them.

Daniel, the father, had recently lost his job. Though he’s looking regularly for work, so far he hasn’t found even a minimum wage paying job to help support his wife, Jennifer and three children: Tessa, 9, Tye, 6 and Lilly, 4.

If the job loss wasn’t hard enough to manage, Daniel shared that his aging and sick father recently moved in with them.

“Sometimes,” the mom, Jennifer says, “I really worry about how we are going to pay the bills and make sure that there is food in the pantry.”

Though they get assistance from the government through unemployment and SNAP benefits, “It’s just not enough to feed a family of six.”

Such is why the presence of the Feed the Children distribution coordinated through a partner agency in town was such a blessing.  It was encouragement and a little boost to a family seeking to make it but just needing someone to help remind them that others are cheering them on.

As the family vehicle (in desperate need of repairs itself) pulled way from the distribution site, Daniel rolled down the windows of his truck and said, “Please tell everyone at Feed the Children thank you again. We will eat well tonight.”

Feed the Children’s American Feeding Americans—it’s what being a good neighbor is all about… one family at a time.

From Donor to Dinner: How We Feed American Children

It’s easy to claim we provide tens of millions of meals to children each year. It sounds simple – your gift of $20 a month provides $100 worth of food and essentials to children in need.

But making that happen requires generous donors, hard work, and people who are determined that no child or family should go to bed hungry.

girl with lasagna

Today, we’ll take a tour behind the scenes at how Feed the Children makes good on that claim.

Our story begins with three donations:

Mary’s $20 enables Feed the Children to purchase the discounted spaghetti sauce from Ragu or send a truck for the entire eight skids . Next month, her $20 donation sends sauce to food banks in Ohio and Florida.

volunteer with pallet and truck

Mary’s donation and others like hers are multiplied by Marcus’s donation of time.

When product donations and purchases arrive in the distribution center, Marcus spends his donated hours unpacking the pallets, adding essential items like shampoo, spaghetti sauce, and toilet paper to hundreds of boxes, and loading filled boxes onto trucks bound for community partners like the Salvation Army in downtown Cleveland.

Twenty-five thousand volunteers like Marcus donate their time, both in Oklahoma City with our headquarters and around the country, saving Feed the Children distribution center costs.

Dozens of corporations like Ragu and CVS donate products or sell them for pennies, allowing Feed the Children to send essentials to more people in need.

water_FTC

Thousands of donors like Mary send cash, multiplying all the other contributions as Feed the Children transforms money into food and essentials with the help of volunteers and corporations.

The relationships Feed the Children has with donors like Mary and companies like Ragu transform her $20 into $100 in food and essentials. And relationships with agency partners like the Salvation Army and local food banks places food and essentials into the hands of hungry children and families in the most effective way possible.

Providing millions of meals to children each year requires many people working together, united with one vision – that no child or family goes to bed hungry.

How will you help? We’re always looking for donors, volunteers, and corporate partners who share our mission.

Beyond Bowls of Beans: How We’re Defeating Hunger Overseas

Today’s post is the first in a four-part series introducing you to our proactive, sustainable approach to ending international poverty and improving livesOur Four Pillars—Food & Nutrition, Health & Water, Education, and Livelihoods—comprise an 8- to 10-year, integrated program that equips and empowers impoverished families and communities to achieve self-sufficiency.

Today we’ll take a look at the Food and Nutrition pillar, where we work toward positive, lasting change by making nutritious food consistently available in some of the poorest communities in the world.

It’s not about shock and awe—it’s the truth: Poor nutrition causes nearly half (45%) of deaths in children under five – 3.1 million children each year. So this is where we begin the battle. The development of positive, lasting change is untenable as long as malnutrition is taking lives—so our first step when we arrive in an impoverished place is to defeat hunger.

That’s a huge mission.

But we bring an arsenal of effective weapons and a precise strategy for defeating this enemy. Our approach in each situation depends on a community’s particular needs. So from Africa to Latin America to the Philippines to Haiti, we take aim where it’s needed most:

  • We construct or improve kitchens or feeding centers and energy-efficient stoves
  • We provide regular, hot, nutrient-rich meals through our school and community feeding centers
  • We offer nutrition education that includes the basics of achieving healthy, balanced diets, as well as training for children and adults about proper food preparation, handling, and storage
  • We distribute take-home rations, cooking pots, and utensils
  • We give agricultural training for the improvement of farming and irrigation, and we teach organic vegetable gardening to families, schools, and communities to help them establish and improve their own plots with healthful, indigenous produce
  • We distribute food supplements for pregnant and lactating mothers, deworming medication for children who can’t absorb nutrients, and vitamin supplements for malnourished children

And surely, steadily, with your help, we advance our cause.

school children at lunch in Guatemala

In El Salvador, we zeroed in on Ahuachapán, one of the country’s regions with the highest number of malnutrition cases among children under 12 years old. VitaMeal rice is a staple of our direct feeding program because it contains the vitamins and nutrients that malnourished children need to become healthy. We partnered with the Municipality of Ahuachapán, who brought in a nutritionist to work with the mothers of the 82 children who were starving in three of Ahuachapán’s poorest areas. We delivered 82 bags of VitaMeal, which she taught them how to prepare.

But this is not a one-and-done deal. We will continue to send each child one bag of VitaMeal every two weeks until they are no longer malnourished. Once all the children in those three areas are healthy, our El Salvador staff and the Municipality will move the project to other poor communities in Ahuachapán. And with every move, we win another battle against hunger.

In communities where we’ve implemented school- and community-based feedings such as these, we’ve seen attendance and enrollment increase more than 60%. This means that rather than spending their days scavenging through trash dumps or searching the streets for food, children come to school for the food they so desperately need—and with their meal, they also receive an education.

And education means hope.

Roxanna and her sister carry water for their family
Roxanna and her sister carry water for their family

Nine-year-old Roxana lives in the mountains, a treacherous 75-mile hike from Guatemala City. She and her six siblings crowd into a single-room cement block house with their parents, and her father tries to support them on four dollars a day by laboring hard to plant and maintain coffee trees for crop owners. Four dollars—the cost of a cup of coffee—is what Roxana’s father earns to harvest it.

They have no running water. The only water source the community has is a hike down to a tiny spring that they’ve rigged a rubber pipe to. The water is often dirty and sometimes they barely get a trickle. Several times a day, the women and children of the tiny community haul the water in jugs up and down the mountain. It’s a daily struggle just to get water—never mind food.

So our feeding center at her school is literally a life-saver for Roxana. Before we built the center, Roxana was severely malnourished. Now she and 130-150 other children receive regular, nutritious meals, medical care, and education when they walk through our doors. Roxana is fed—not just with food, but with hope. At school, she’s discovered that she loves math—she wants to be a teacher. And with a healthy body and hopeful heart, Roxana is a victory.

Hunger will not win.