by Dr. Karla Lester, MD
Did you grow up hungry?
If you look at my life now, you would be surprised to find out that I was a child of neglect and food insecurity. My two sisters and I weren’t your typical faces of hunger, but then again, neither are the faces of so many hungry people in our community. Hunger is everywhere. It’s a painful symptom of an underlying cause. People find themselves hungry, especially children, due to circumstances out of their control. My parents divorced when I was five years old and our mother became severely depressed. We did not grow up in Lincoln, did not use a Food Bank, or any food distribution sites. Ours was a behind the scenes kind of hunger. We know what it’s like to never eat breakfast and then go to school and be lectured on the “most important meal of the day”. We know what it’s like to not have food in the house in the summer and what it’s like to eat fast food every night for dinner.
My sisters and I are grateful that we had a healthy, near idyllic start, a safety net in our maternal grandmother, good schools and high intelligence. But, hunger is painful and it is tough to shake the thought that you are not worth having even your basic needs provided for. I don’t think growing up hungry is anything a person ever gets over.
I have no doubt that growing up the way I did has been a driving force in my commitment to child advocacy. It is also the reason why I believe that children deserve to grow up in a healthy community.
Five years ago, I left my pediatric practice to start Teach a Kid to Fish (www.teachakidtofish.org). Teach a Kid to Fish envisions creating community solutions for children’s health.
There is a paradoxical link between hunger and obesity. The Food Bank and Teach a Kid to Fish have the common goal to increase access, affordability and promotion of healthy foods. This is not an easy task, in light of the staggering need, and our current food system where low cost foods are typically not the healthiest. It will take time, but our organizations are working to start our community on a healthier path. You can be a part of creating community solutions for children’s health by:
- Becoming a healthy role model
- Working within your circle of connection (your work, neighborhood, child care, your child’s school, and church) to support wellness efforts.
- Advocate for policy changes in support of children’s health through programs and local efforts:
- School wellness policy development
- Farmer’s markets and community gardens
- Local planning efforts to improve our built community and increase access to healthy foods
- Safe routes to school