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Grace Carlson

Children Suffer from “Hidden Hunger”
Because Workers Can’t Buy Decent Food

(7 April 1945)

From The Militant, Vol. IX No. 14, 7 April 1945, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

It’s a very odd thing —
As odd as can be —
That whatever Miss T eats
Turns into Miss T.

In his Advancing Front of Medicine, George Gray uses this nursery jingle by Walter De La Mare very cleverly to introduce the subject of vitamins and their importance to health. What Gray does not emphasize sufficiently, however, is the fact that whatever Miss T does not eat also “turns into Miss T.” This is true of Mr. and Mrs. T, as well, and of all the little T’s, too. What people do not eat is a very important subject!

What working-class children do NOT eat – what they are deprived of eating – because of the poverty in their homes is the most important subject of all – and the most tragic.

Ill-fed children by the thousands have weak bodies, stunted growth and twisted limbs as a result of dietary deficiency diseases like rickets, scurvy and pellagra. These severe cases of malnutrition occur chiefly in the South. But East, West, North and South, there are today millions of children who have milder forms of nutritional deficiency. What these children do NOT get of the rich, nourishing foods they need may make them dull, listless, cross and irritable. What the children of the poor DO NOT EAT can twist their minds and spirits as well as their bodies!

Illustrations of the devastating effect of malnutrition upon the mental and physical health of young children are given in Case Studies of Nutrition compiled from the records of Child Health Clinics and published in a 1943 issue of The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. Here are one or two examples.

“Case 1. One of Boston’s Problem Children – Teen-aged, sandwich and pickle type ...

“An American girl, fourteen years old, referred to the Nutrition Department because of a rapid and widespread disintegration of the teeth ... A series of conferences first with Mildred alone and later with Mrs. D., disclosed the following symptoms which are frequently associated with early nutritive failure: chronic fatigue (especially noticeable when climbing stairs); inability to concentrate in school; restless sleep; lack of appetite; persistent worry; irritability; gradual loss of weight over a period of six months.

“Analysis of a week’s record of her intake indicated an extreme deficiency of milk, eggs, fruits, vegetables and whole- grain or enriched cereals. A day’s eating consisted of bacon, toast and coffee for breakfast; a crabmeat salad sandwich, potato chips and a dill pickle for lunch; a small salad, bread and butter and a brownie for supper.”

“Case 2 – From Chicago Italian-American – poverty’s child.

“A ten-year-old girl of Italian parentage, suffering from rheumatic heart disease and dental caries (decay). Conversation with the mother disclosed the fact, that the family was having serious financial difficulties due to the father’s illness and consequent unemployment for the preceding five months.

“A record of the patient’s intake showed that her daily diet consisted of several large servings of spaghetti with oil, homemade white bread, usually eaten dry but occasionally with oleo, one serving of either cabbage or dried beans, a potato, and coffee with a small amount of evaporated milk. Thus the diet consisted largely of refined carbohydrates and was low in proteins, minerals and vitamins.”

What good does it do these poverty-stricken children that earnest scientists on the National Research Council have arranged to place in schoolrooms huge posters, saying: “Eat the Right Food to Help You Keep Fit?” What use can their discouraged mothers make of the health leaflets, which the children bring home to them – leaflets warning of the dangers of “hidden hunger” and urging them to give their children more milk, fresh fruits and vegetables, meat and eggs?

Working-class mothers, like all others, want and try to give their children the right kind of food- food that will build strong, active, healthy young bodies. But this is a period of food shortages, rising prices and “frozen wages.” What prevents women of the working class from taking proper care of their children is lack of money – time – energy – and ration points.

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