Starving to death in the USA

I had a discussion with some people about starving in the U.S. They were saying people starve TO DEATH in the U.S. every day. I heard that 50% of food stamp recipients are actually overweight. Talking to people, who are are welfare, who are not, etc. I can’t believe that people are actually starving to death. I read that “going to bed hungry” is the key phrase in this study. Hungry-In a Sociological way, in my opinion a normal kid thing-is different that Starving. So how about it, TM, or Cecil? I don’t want opinions, I want FACTS about this.

Americans throw out too much food for anybody in this country to starve to death. As soon as a person gets hungry enough to eat out of a garbage can, he will have no trouble feeding himself.

I’m not saying this is something the USA should be proud of, but I don’t think it’s far off the mark to say “nobody starves to death in this country.”

papabear, I just think that you are way off the mark on this one. I am sorry I can’t support my argument. Just that your response kind of pissed me off. There are always some who will slip by the cracks.

Cogito Ergo Vroom
I think therefore I ride fast…

Let me ammend my comments to exclude those who, because of eating disorders, “willfully” starve themselves.

I must say, anyone who thinks that there is starvation in the USA could probably stand a little World travel to put things in perspective.

popkis5 writes:

Just a reminder that obesity != overly (or even adequately) nourished. It’s possible to be morbidly obese and still lack, e.g., adequate B-complex vitamins. Granted, death tends to counteract obesity quite nicely, still…

“Gold cannot always get you good soldiers, but good soldiers can always get you gold”

I agree with Papabear. It is damned near impossible to starve to death in the US unless one does it willfully. I understand Hannu’s initial reaction (if I interpret it correctly) that this notion seems cold-hearted, but I don’t think that it is. It is true that there are cracks to slip through in many social service/welfare programs, but as Papabear pointed out, one can always find food in the garbage. To the best of my knowledge, garbage picking is available to all. Soup kitchens also do not have requirements. One only needs to show up. Churches will often feed hungry people. And one could also panhandle to scrape up $1.99 for combo meal or some such thing.
I am not suggesting that these are ideal eating habits, only that there are many ways one could easily avoid starvation in the US, should one chose to do so.

I just spent a half an hour trying to find any statistics about how many people starve to death in the USA each year. I found oodles of info on starvation in dozens of countries, but nary a mention of the U.S. Perhaps I didn’t look in the right places, but considering how many sites addressed starvation as a result of poverty and the fact that none even mentioned the U.S., I would venture to say it is a very small problem here, if it is a problem at all.

“I think it would be a great idea” Mohandas Ghandi’s answer when asked what he thought of Western civilization

I think this is what you’re looking for:

JAMA 1998 Apr 15;279(15):1211-4
(Published erratum appears in JAMA 1998 Aug 19;280(7):604)
Hunger in an adult patient population.
Nelson K, Brown ME, Lurie N
CONTEXT: Although clinical observations suggest that some patients experience hunger and food insecurity, there are limited data on the prevalence of hunger in adult patients. OBJECTIVE: To determine the prevalence of hunger and food insecurity in adult patients at an urban county hospital. DESIGN: Cross-sectional survey conducted in 1997. PATIENTS: The primary survey included all patients aged 18 years or older who were admitted to the medicine,surgery, and neurology services during a 2-week period, and all patients who attended the hospital’s general medicine clinic during 1 week. A second survey included primary care patients who received insulin from the hospital pharmacy during a 1-month period. MAIN
OUTCOME MEASURES: Rates of hunger and food insecurity. RESULTS: Of 709 eligible patients, 567 (participation rate, 80%) were interviewed in either the clinic (n=281) or hospital (n=286). An additional 170 patients who received insulin were interviewed by telephone(response rate, 75%). Of the primary sample, 68 (12%) respondents reported not having enough food, 75 (13%) reported not eating for an entire day, and 77 (14%) reported going hungry but not eating because they could not afford food. A total of 222 (40%) had received food stamps in the previous year and of those, 113 (50%) had their food stamps reduced or eliminated.
Recipients whose food stamps had been eliminated or reduced were more likely to report not having enough food (18% vs 13%, P=.006), not eating for a whole day (20% vs 16%, P=.01),going hungry but not eating (20% vs 16%, P=.08), and cutting down on the size of meals or skipping meals (33% vs 27%, P=.01). In multivariate analysis, independent predictors of hunger included an annual income of less than $10000 (odds ratio [OR], 7.55; 95% CI, 3.01-18.92),drug use (OR, 3.56; 95% CI, 1.46-8.66), and a reduction in food stamp benefits (OR, 1.73; 95% CI, 1.01-2.96). Predictors of food insecurity included an annual income of less than $10000(OR, 4.12; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.98-8.58), drug use (OR, 2.11; 95% CI, 1.66-5.08),
and a reduction in food stamps (OR, 2.02; 95% CI, 1.23-3.32). In addition, 103 (61%) patients in the sample of diabetics reported hypoglycemic reactions; 32 (31%) of these were attributed to inability to afford food. CONCLUSION: Hunger and food insecurity are common among patients seeking care at an urban county hospital.

There’s also this one showing that even food bank programs don’t always have the expected effect(although it’s from Canada, not the US).
Tarasuk VS, et al.
Household food insecurity and hunger among families using food banks.
Can J Public Health. 1999 Mar-Apr;90(2):109-13.
Over the past two decades, the demand for charitable food assistance has steadily grown, and a massive ad hoc system of food banks has become established in Canada. To assess the food insecurity and nutritional vulnerability of one subgroup of food bank users, interviews were conducted with a sample of 153 women in families using emergency food relief programs in Metropolitan Toronto. Ninety percent reported household incomes which were less than two
thirds of the ‘poverty line’, and 94% reported some degree of food insecurity over the previous 12 months. Seventy percent reported some level of absolute food deprivation, despite using food banks. The findings highlight the limited capacity of ad hoc, charitable food assistance programs to respond to problems of household food insecurity which arise in the context of
severe and chronic poverty.

And of course, some of the worst hunger is experienced by the elderly, who may not be able to nip round to the corner dumpster. See:

Wolfe WS, et al.
Hunger and food insecurity in the elderly: its nature and measurement.
J Aging Health. 1998 Aug;10(3):327-50.

There’s definitely cause for concern, APB, but I’m sure you agree that “food insecurity” doesn’t equal “starvation”.

I went 2 days without eating once. It was pride (just a phase) that prevented me from asking for help. I pretended I was fasting. The difference was that I knew money was coming–a lot easier if you don’t. Also, you can get handouts at a lot of restaurants at closing time.

There is a huge difference between adults who won’t help themselves and children who can’t.

Sorry about the missing statistics.

There is no course of life so weak and sottish as that which is managed by order, method, and discipline. -Montaigne

There’s a point no one has brought up yet in this discussion:

Everything said so far about restaurants and garbage picking refers to URBAN environments. I live in a cowtown, which is growing into a more urban environment, but still doesn’t have the sorts of restaurant industry or garbage availability that a city would. Don’t get me wrong, you could probably get by on garbage in the area, and we’re close enough to a city that you could walk there in a couple of days (about 2 hours by car, or so), but for someone going hungry in a truly rural area, those options just don’t exist.

That said, the inhabitants of rural areas do have some other options that aren’t available to city-dwellers. During a period of underemployment, dozens of people I hardly knew got together and made sure that someone had me over for dinner almost every night. I couldn’t have gone hungry if I’d wanted to! This sort of community exists in many more rural areas, but I never found it in any cities.

I’m really surprised that people actually think eating out of a freaking garbage dumpster to get food should be an option at all in the U.S. or any other country.
Considering the fact that perfectly viable food is actually dumped into the sea or otherwise destroyed because it can’t be sold at a proft, and that the budget for the delightful little excursion in Kosovo was partially paid for by reductions in domestic social spending (food stamps and such), it’s pretty obvious that relief of “food insecurity” is not high on the list of priorities for either the government or captains of industry.

Cave Diem! Carpe Canem!

I’m sure there are lots of elderly people who are going hungry.Because of illness or old age, they limit their time outside their home. If we want old people to take care of themselves, instead of being in medicaid paid old folks homes, it would be cheaper to deliver basic supplies to their homes.

PapaBear: well, I’m no sociologist, I was just seeing what the literature had to offer on short notice. But it DOES seem that the phrase “food insecurity” is used synonymously with “hunger” in the field. I don’t know why, but I would guess that it has to do with there being a specific definition somewhere for “food insecurity” while “hunger” is a colloquial word meaning different things to different people. At any rate, it seems to be the phenomena we’re talking about.

I didn’t see anything on actual MEDICAL starvation rates, which would most perfectly address the question. We’d probably have to look at coroner’s reports. I don’t know how to find that. Who would keep such records? The FBI? The Census Bureau? There may be something in hospital records, too, about people who are diagnosed as starving (and are subsequently fed and thus don’t die).

More broadly, though, starvation doesn’t necessarily mean NOTHING to eat. It can also mean an insufficiency of only SOME of the nutrients necessary for life. Someone who dies of scurvy has starved to death, in a sense, even if their belly is full of bread. I think if we find widespread starvation in the U.S. it is more likely to be of this sort: chronic nutrient defficiency.

Ouch, now that I think about it, that makes it really complicated. Nutrient defficiency would likely often first manifest as immune failure - lots of people whose “cause of death” is listed as an overt pathology may actually have some kind of starvation as the primary cause of their death.

Maybe we SHOULD confine ourselves to starvation as a total lack of food, though I can’t help but feel that makes it somewhat artificial.

Perhaps my definition of starvation is too extreme. I would define it as weeks, if not months, of malnutrition that ultimately results in death. Scurvy would fit this definition.

I will go as far as saying involuntary starvation is all but impossible in any community in the USA. A starving person can walk into any hospital or clinic, qualify as indigent, and be restored to health. I dare say most Americans would not turn their back on someone who is obviously starving.

Food is literally cheaper than dirt in this country. Hunger and “food insecurity” are serious concerns, but they are NOT life threatening! There IS real starvation in the World. A Sudanese farmer could feed his whole family on what the average American throws away!

If you don’t have the opportunity to visit places like India or East Africa or even the Philipines, just find a former POW of the Japanese or North Koreans. Saying there is starvation in the USA is like saying there in frost-bite in Saudi Arabia.

Well, APB, I guess from the studies that it proves that people don’t starve to death here in the US. While they may be hungry, which is a relative term, the study group were well enough to participate in the study. I will give malnutrition. But, I’m with PapaBear that when I think starving, I think Bangladesh. Usually even during children sponsorship commericals when they show US kids, they are dirty and perhaps underclothed. But I wouldn’t say starving. I’d be willing to bet if people were starving to death that those sponsor people would find them.

My father-in-law has a saying to the effect that nobody in this world should go hungry as long as there are pigeons still alive.


I’m a woman phenomenally
Phenomenal woman
That’s me
(Maya Angelou)

Hey, sunbear:

I deliver Meals-On-Wheels to the elderly. There are a lot of assistance programs out there that do just that. For impoverished people, we deliver one meal a day, and on weekends, they get frozen dinners. Holidays, we deliver a box of groceries . . . all for free. Our costs are covered by private donations and State grants.

I found the National Center for Health Statistics home page, and asked for the actual numbers. Their reply was:

I’m not motivated enough to collate the data from a list myself, but anyone who is, please let us know what you find.

Sure, kids do go hungry in America. When I taught 4th grade in Compton, CA, the principal told me that after a three day weekend, there would be no food left over from any meal because of kids getting seconds. But that’s not starvation.

Referring to PapaBear’s comment about world travel, my Argentine roommate has the same attitude. He was given one of those little ribbons to pin to his shirt to show his support for the “starving in America”, (I think it was orange) and he wore it for weeks as a joke. Coming from there, the idea that hunger was a problem in America was next to impossible.