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Children's Health

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Scarlett Johansson Feeds Hungry Children

2009 WebMD Health Hero Scarlett Johansson is on a mission to feed hungry kids for a very personal reason. She used to be one of them.

Scarlett Johansson and Hurricane Katrina continued...

"Emergency Communities normally sets up a site for a couple of months, providing food banks, Internet stations, shower stalls, anything to help people rebuild in the aftermath of a disaster," Johansson explains. "But in New Orleans, they stayed much longer. On our food line, we were feeding people living in FEMA trailers, Red Cross workers, and even people who had pitched tents right on the parking lot and were just living there."

She still recalls one woman she met who'd just lost her restaurant job after the place closed down. "She was completely bewildered," Johansson says. "She had two kids in school, no money and no income, and she was in excruciating pain from dental problems, and the lines for any emergency care were just hours and hours long. It was a disaster. It's so hard to understand how these people could just be overlooked."

Dishing out food at Made With Love -- which served more than 200,000 meals from December 2005 to May 2006 -- Johansson talked to hundreds of people with similar stories.

"I asked them how often they came there, and 90% of the people I served said they came for three meals a day. They had no other way of getting food. I said, 'Stan, this is shocking!' But it's something he sees all the time."

Hidden Epidemic: Childhood Hunger

Kids in such families may not look like the familiar image of a starving child, says Deborah Frank, MD, the director of Boston Medical Center's Grow Clinic for Children. But the damage done by regularly missing meals takes its toll on the inside long before it shows on the outside. "In young children especially, the first thing that goes when you're not getting enough to eat is 'discretionary activity,'" Frank explains.

"You can do what you need to survive, but you have no focus or energy left over. It's only when kids are adequately fed, rested, and comfortable that they're learning. So they missed a few meals, what's the big deal? It's a big deal if you want the child to learn something."

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