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Jeff Bridges: Hungry for Change

The veteran actor talks about his drive to feed millions of hungry children -- plus his approach to acting, fitness, and staying balanced.

How Hunger Harms Kids

Hunger has consequences far beyond a rumbling stomach, especially for children, including:

Running on empty

Hunger has consequences far beyond a rumbling stomach, especially for children. Missing out on essential nutrients can stunt their physical development, their academic performance, and their social skills, says pediatrician Ivor Horn, MD, MPH, who sees many underfed kids at the Diana L. and Stephen A. Goldberg Center for Community Pediatric Health, part of Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C. Without a proper diet, she says, "They are not getting the foundation they need."

Not making the grade

"Waking up hungry, going to school hungry -- it makes it hard to focus, hard to concentrate," says Horn. Studies have linked hungry kids to lower math scores and a greater likelihood of repeating a grade compared with their better-fed classmates. "We know that hungry kids have poor performance."

Acting up

Hunger affects more than just grades. Behavioral problems can often be tied to hunger too, says Horn. Aggression and anxiety, according to one study, are the most common consequences of going hungry. "We need to diagnose hunger as early as we diagnose ADHD [attention deficit hyperactivity disorder] and autism."

Few healthy choices

In poor communities, such as the one that Horn serves, supermarkets are largely absent. Instead, families have to rely on small corner stores, which are less likely to stock fresh produce and other nutritious foods. "A lot of my families do cook, but only what they can afford to buy. [They need] programs to provide healthy options."

Food drive

Giving a kid a healthy meal can have profoundly beneficial effects, says Horn, and research backs her up. Math scores, one study found, shot up once kids in three inner-city schools (one in Philadelphia, two in Baltimore) started eating a school-provided breakfast, while their behavioral problems decreased.

Ending Childhood Hunger

One of the No Kid Hungry Campaign's primary goals is to ensure that children who don't get the nutrition they need at home have access to existing meal programs both during the school year and throughout the summer months. "There are programs in place that we know work," Bridges told his National Press Club listeners. "The problem isn't having enough programs in place. The problem is they are not reaching enough kids."

More than half of all children eligible for a free or reduced-price breakfast did not get one in the 2008–2009 school year, FRAC reports. That's more than 10 million children.

If there is any silver lining to the current size of the problem, it's that it has grown too large to ignore, says FRAC president James Weill. "Ironically, it's helped by making clear what needs to be done," says Weill, who is eager to see the federal government commit the resources necessary to eliminate hunger.

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