Hunger causes problems here

Published 10:20 am Tuesday, September 18, 2012

In the New Testament Jesus tells a very poignant story about a rich man and a poor fellow named Lazarus.

Lazarus lay at the rich man’s gate covered with sores and in dire need begging for help, but with no response from the rich man. When they both died Lazarus went to his eternal rest in the bosom of Abraham, but the rich man went to a place of torment.

Many a sermon has been preached on this parable, but recently I heard an interpretation of it that caused me to wonder. This interpretation expressed the idea that the rich man’s biggest problem was that he just didn’t notice Lazarus and his plight.

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The rich man was comfortable, well fed, and busy. He just didn’t notice Lazarus and his difficulties. As I thought about the story with this interpretation and our current situation, I began to realize how easy it is for us to be like that rich fellow. The problems of the hungry are not ours. We have other things to occupy our minds. We’re not affected, are we?

Well, the truth of the matter is hunger affects each and every one of us whether we are hungry or not. How so, you say? Continue reading for awhile, and perhaps you’ll see.

The Ohio Association of Second Harvest Foodbanks, Ohio’s largest charitable response to hunger, reported these statistics for Fiscal Year 2011: Ohio’s 12 Feeding America Food banks and their network of more than 3,300 local agencies fed 2.1 million Ohioans, 35 percent of which were children and 14 percent of which were seniors.

This represents an increase of 58.9 percent in the number of clients served from 2006 to 2011. The increase is remarkable, but look closely at the numbers for children (735,000) and seniors (294,000).

Keep in mind these numbers don’t represent all the people who needed help, only those who received it from the foodbanks. If one takes the percentages for children and seniors and applies them to figures for

Lawrence County with a population of 62,000 plus it appears that approximately

9,300 children and 3,700 seniors are likely to be experiencing hunger or food insecurity.

These two groups represent the people most at risk from hunger and food insecurity, and the consequences they experience affect each and every one of us.

What happens to a hungry or malnourished senior? Consider these items:

1. Poor intakes of energy and major vitamins

2. Poor overall health status

3. Compromised ability to resist infection and illness

4. More likely to have ADL (Activities of Daily Living) limitations comparable to an adult 14 years older

5. Deteriorating mental and physical health

6. Greater incidence of hospitalizations

7. Extended hospital stays

8. Increasing care-giving demands

9. Increased probability of early nursing home placement.

So what does that mean to you and me? It means many more things than I have room to cover in terms of health care availability and cost in our region. Just one illustration is worth considering. Many of the elderly who must go to nursing homes will have their bills paid by Medicaid.

If we could improve the health of just 20 of these folks so that they could stay in their own homes for just one more year it could represent a savings of more than $1.2 million dollars, and most of them would be happier at home.

Improving nutrition for the elderly could provide significant savings for our health care system and decrease suffering and illness as well.

Now how about children? What happens to a hungry or malnourished child?

These are just a few of the things:

1. Poorer overall health

2. Higher hospitalization rates for young children

3. Behavioral problems in 3 year olds

4. Lower physical function in children ages 3 to 8

5. Higher rates of depressive disorder and suicidal symptoms in teens

6. Lower math achievement and other achievement gains in kindergarten

7. Lower math and reading gains from kindergarten to third grade

8. Lower arithmetic scores

9. At least 50 percent more likely to miss days of school

10. Nearly twice as likely to be suspended

11. More likely to drop out and have reduced lifetime earnings.

Considering all these problems with children who are hungry it doesn’t take a rocket scientist or a sociologist to recognize the negative consequences to a region where children are ill fed.

For example, the list above talks about poor performance in various school subjects. It also notes the increased probability of school drop outs.

With these children becoming adults and entering the workforce, their past performance and their limited abilities make a negative impact on potential employers looking for a place to open a business or factory. The cost to the children is devastating and the cost to the region is debilitating.

The health care issues of all people who are poorly nourished and suffering from hunger weigh heavily on the health care delivery system.

The cost to the taxpayer for Medicaid and Medicare is escalated, but the greatest cost of all is in the suffering of individuals. An additional unquantifiable cost is incurred, however, in that those individuals most affected are unable to reach their full potential as human beings.

All of us suffer when a person’s gifts and talents are short circuited by poor nutrition and related deficits and illnesses. We cannot fail to notice the hunger in our midst. It is Hunger Action Month, and we need to do something. Next week I’ll approach the issue with some suggestions.

In the meantime, if you have a food pantry in your church or community, call 532-1196 (First United Methodist Church) and let us know. We’d like to hear from you about your program.


The Rev. Wayne E. Young is pastor at the First United Methodist Church, located at 101 N. Fifth St., in Ironton. He can be reached at (740) 532-1196.