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Legal Advocacy for the Hungry and Malnourished: How Can Nutrition Scientists Help? LYNN PARKER The Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) is a public interest law firm and advocacy center that works to alleviate hunger and malnutrition in the United States. It provides legal representation, legislative advocacy, policy analysis, research, public education, and training to local organi- zations that support and monitor federal nutrition programs for low-income Americans. Two of the FRAC's major concerns are the alleviation of hunger and malnutrition in the United States and the quality and adequacy of the federal food assistance programs. Nutrition scientists can assist in these efforts. DOCUMENTING HUNGER AND MALNUTRITION Since 1980, PRAC has attempted to convince many policymakers Hat the combination of recession, unemployment, and some budget decisions have had a negative impact on the ability of many people to obtain an adequate diet. This problem still exists, as reflected in the continuing increase in persons depending on emergency food centers. A recent survey of selected centers showed an average 20% increase in emergency food recipients between 1983 and 1984, with more than 61% of He centers reporting that more than 50~o of their clients were families win children (FRAC, 19841. Although the United States is, or1 the whole, a wealthy and perhaps overfed nation, 15% of the population lives below the poverty level a level based on the ability to purchase a minimally nutritious diet (U.S. 162

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LEGAL ADVOCACY FOR THE HUNGRY AND MALNOURISHED 163 Department of Commerce, 19X41. Yet, scientists and health professionals have not made the nutritional consequences of Hat situation clear to pol- icymakers or helped others to document the problem and its consequences in a practical and convincing way. For example, Edwin Meese, presidential advisor, told the American public in 1983 Hat many people go to soup kitchens "because the food's free . . . and Watts easier than paying for it" (Washington Post, 1983~. Regarding hungry children, he added, "I've heard a lot of anecdotal stuff, but I haven't heard any authoritative figures." Shordy thereafter, He President's Task Force on Food Assistance after nationwide hearings and a review of all information the government could gather on He nu- tritional status of the U.S. population stated in its final report: "Lack of up-to-date data has made it impossible to assess whether the current nutritional status of the population has worsened over the last years" (President's Task Force on Food Assistance, 19841. Concerned with this lack of data, 50 health professionals and advocates from around the coundy recently met under the auspices of FRAC and the University of Norm Carolina's Child Health Outcomes Project to discuss nutrition monitoring in the 1980s. Models for documenting hunger and malnutrition at He local level were presented. Frustration was ex- pressed at the lack of an inexpensive model for documenting food adequacy problems in a way that would be convincing to local policymakers. I would like to offer nutrition scientists the challenge of helping these health professionals and advocates in their local efforts to document increasing hunger and malnutntion. IMPROVING THE NUTRITIONAL QUALITY OF CHILD NUTRITION The National School Lunch Program is a federal food assistance program that provides lunches to 23 million children in He United States every day. When the Department of Health and Human Services is telling the American public that the fat in their diets is probably a controllable con- tributor to the incidence of cancer, and when so many Amencans are struggling to reduce their sodium intake, it makes sense to look more carefully at the meals that are provided to so many schoolchildren every day. Two recent Washington Post (Sugarrnan, 1984) and New York Times, (Brody, 1984) articles criticized the nutritional quality of school lunches. The Times article quoted a distraught mother: "Everything I do at home is being undermined by the lunch they get at schoolhot dogs, ham- burgers, cheese, bologna, trench fries, fried fish, white bread, fruit canned

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164 PERSPECTIVES ONN=~IONPROG~S, POLICY. AD RESEARCH in heavy syrup, potato chips, whole milk or chocolate milk. Where are the low-fat, low-salt, low-sugar, high-fiber foods [that] experts tell us we should be eating if we want to stay healthy?" The article also reported on McDonalds' efforts to open their fast-food operations inside schools in competition with school lunch programs. After describing some of the high-fat, high-salt items being taste-tested by students for local lunch programs, the Post article reported: "Today's food service directors are caught in a bind, a balancing act in which they must juggle economic constraints, parental pressures and the powerful merchandising effects of fast-food restaurants with the need to provide a quick nutritious lunch that students will eat." lathe Post furler reported Mat a local high school cafeteria manager claimed to sell 160 senings of french fries and onion rings per day versus 6 individual cartons of yogurt and 35 helpings from Me salad bar per day. And, on a questionnaire at a taste party in a local county, students' suggestions for improving the lunch program included adding candy machines, soda machines, and more french fries. Meanwhile, the only program providing funds for nutrition education of schoolchildren, the Nutrition Education and Training Program, has been cut back to $5 million, and since 1980, the adminis~ation's yearly budget proposals have eliminated this program, according to the Post article. What is served to children in school obviously reflects what is served to everyone else in homes and restaurants nationwide. However, scientists, academics, heady professionals, food industry advisors, and government officials must help local schools to feed children in a more nutritious and healthful way and to teach them lifelong, healthful food habits. This is the second challenge I offer to nutrition scientists. REFERENCES Brady, J. E. 1984. Assessing quality of student lunches. New York Times, October 17. Food Research and Action Center. 1984. Bitter Harvest: A Status Report on the Need for Emergency Food Assistance in America. Food Research and Action Center, Washington, D.C. 68 pp. President's Task Force on Food Assistance. 1984. Report of the President's Task Force on Food Assistance. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 115 pp. Suga~man, C. 1984. Testing kids' tastes. Washington Post, October 17. U.S. Department of Commerce. 1984. Estimates of Poverty Including the Value of Noncash Benefits: 1979 to 1982. A report of the Bureau of the Census. Technical Paper No. 51. U.S. Department of Commerce, Washington, D.C. 172 pp. Washington Post. 1983. Meese: "The food is free and...that's easier than paying for it." December 10.