Both Ends of the Scale: Malnourished Kids and Childhood Obesity

Last week’s Boston Globe article by Kay Lazar on the spike in childhood hunger in the Boston area spawned nearly 700 comments and shot up the most-emailed list. Many readers were stunned, as I was, by the Boston Medical Center study that found an increase from 12 to 18 percent in seriously underweight children, ages 0 -3, in just three years. And, the number of severely underweight infants being sent to the BMC’s Grow Clinic has risen by 58 percent, from 24 in 2005 to 38 in 2010, rivaling developing nations.

It seemed ironic that just two days before, McDonald’s announced it was downsizing the Happy Meal, which will now include fewer french fries and more apple slices. How, in the midst of the childhood obesity epidemic, are there so many malnourished kids among us? Researchers attributed higher food, housing, and heating costs, along with the recession, to the surge. They also pointed to a possible connection between early malnourishment and later obesity.

As a mother who, years ago, saw her seven-month-old’s weight plummet from the 50th percentile to the second in one summer, I can attest that, even in the best of times, with a steady income and all available resources, a baby can lose weight precipitously. I’ll never forget my feeling of guilt as I slunk out of our pediatrician’s office with an order to make feeding our baby my full-time job for a month.

Yet the more strident of those nearly 700 commenters had easy targets. They blamed the parents for having too many kids, the fathers for abandoning them, and even Obama for, well, I wasn’t quite sure how he played directly into this. Yet, the truth is that having kids is hard work. Having kids in poverty is harder still. But having enough food to give them in this day and age shouldn’t have to be.