Hunger, health inequities hit Blacks, Latinos, & women hardest

black_girl_eatingAccording to reports last month, 49 million people in the United States live in hunger. The U.S. Department of Agriculture tracks “food insecurity,” and this number of people falling into this category is the highest since the feds starting keeping tabs on it in 1995. With the unemployment rate rising above 10%, millions of workers have been laid off or let go. Unemployed workers, African Americans, Latinos, and women are the hardest hit by hunger and its consequences.

Skipping meals, cutting back on portion sizes, and otherwise finding ways to decrease food intake is a daily ritual for millions in the United States. The report estimated that nearly a third of the 49 million people suffering from hunger are in this category. The other two-thirds finds food through visiting food pantries, soup kitchens, or using food stamps.

The health consequences of poor nutrition are myriad. The more immediate sequelae result from vitamin and mineral deficiencies: hyponatremia (pathologically low sodium), anemia, thyroid goiters and hypothyroidism, night blindness, Beri-Beri, pellagra, scurvy, ricketts, and a number of more long-term ailments such as  osteoporosis, hypertension, and nervous disorders.

In the long-term, chronic malnutrition leads to lower energy and fatigue, preventing affected people from acting effectively on their behalf. Chronic malnutrition weakens the body’s immune system, leading to increase infectious disease among the malnourished.

Those hardest hit by hunger are unemployed workers, women and their families, and racial and ethnic minorities. The report found that problems gaining access to food were highest in households with children headed by single mothers, with nearly three times as many such households reporting some food “insecurity” than married households. In both African-American and Latino households, hunger was more than twice as prevalent as in white households.

What this recent report makes clear is that these health inequities, which affects billions of people around the world, also affect millions in the United States. And, once again, African-Americans, Latinos, and working people suffer the most.

Wednesday, December 9th, 2009 at 18:32