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Hospitals: Hunger Rising Among Children

Hunger and malnourishment are on the rise among children in five American cities, but mostly in Boston, a new hospital study reports.  The Boston Medical Center (BMC) has seen a marked increase in underweight and undernourished children, The Boston Globe reports:

Before the economy soured in 2007, 12 percent of youngsters age 3 and under whose families were randomly surveyed in the hospital's emergency department were significantly underweight. In 2010, that percentage jumped to 18 percent, and the tide does not appear to be abating, said Dr. Megan Sandel, an associate professor of pediatrics and public health at BMC.

"Food is costing more, and dollars don't stretch as far,'' Sandel said. "It's hard to maintain a diet that is healthy.''

Pediatricians at hospitals in four other cities - Baltimore; Little Rock, Ark.; Minneapolis; and Philadelphia - also reported increases in the ranks of malnourished, hungry youngsters in their emergency rooms since 2008. But Boston's increases were more dramatic, said Sandel, a lead investigator with Children's HealthWatch, a network of researchers who track children's health. Researchers said higher housing and heating costs in Massachusetts probably exacerbated the state's surge.

The emergency room survey found a similarly striking increase in the percentage of families with children who reported they did not have enough food each month, from 18 percent in 2007 to 28 percent in 2010.

The article reported that BMC has also noted a 58 percent increase in the past 5 years in the number of severely underweight babies referred to the hospital's intensive infant nutrition program called The Grow Clinic.  The clinic's current patient load is similar to typical figures from developing countries.

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