Hunger Stunts Growth of American Babies as Inflation Hits Hard

Originally posted on Bloomberg.

Underfed children are falling behind the growth curve in some high-risk areas, while other families turn to cheaper, less-nutritious foods to fill up. Both will have lasting impacts.

One-year-olds are falling further behind the growth curve at a Boston clinic that treats toddlers so underweight their brain development is at risk. In Denver, children are struggling with dental problems and obesity as families turn to cheaper, high-calorie food. And in Little Rock, Arkansas, more kids are dealing with depression and suicidal thoughts—some as young as 11—as patient charts increasingly display images of bright red wheels, used to indicate food insecurity at home.

It’s a startling turn of events: Kids in the world’s biggest economy are so seized by hunger and malnourishment that safety-net clinics treating the nation’s poorest are sounding the alarm as pandemic-relief programs run out.

“We’re the front-line window into how policies play out in the bodies of babies,” said Megan Sandel, a doctor and co-director at Boston Medical Center’s Grow Clinic, which specializes in treating kids that are severely underweight. Caseloads there are up 40% since the start of the pandemic.

“We’re just seeing an extremity of kids who are malnourished and underweight,” Sandel said.

Some of the most gripping images early in the pandemic were the lines snaking for blocks around food banks as millions of Americans were thrown out of work, many facing food insecurity for the first time in their lives. Federal programs like extended unemployment benefits and stimulus checks helped ease some of the need in the spring and summer. But now, the end of that extra aid, along with the impact from inflation, means hunger is back on the rise.