Greek children are going hungry, yet another terrible consequence of the economic crisis that has gripped the country for five years. Children have been seen looking through trash cans and students have asked other children for food. Schools are not only witnessing the sight of children bent over with hunger pangs — the government is itself reporting the same.
Dr. Athena Lipsos of the University of Athens Medical School tells the New York Times that “when it comes to food insecurity, Greece has now fallen to the level of some African countries.” Food insecurity shows how much a child faces hunger or is at risk for such.
According to a 2012 Unicef report, among the poorest Greek households with children, more than 26 percent have an “economically weak diet.” Immigrant families have certainly been affected, but also Greeks in cities and in rural areas. Families in the countryside can still grow some of their food, but not those in urban ones and pasta, rice, lentils and cabbage are all that many children are living on. One father tells the New York Times that he supplements the family’s diet of cabbage with snails.
Greece’s schools do not offer subsidized lunches for students, who either bring their own food or purchase it from a cafeteria. With some students able to do neither, Prolepsis, a nongovernmental public health group that Dr. Lipsos is affiliated with, began a pilot program last year. From it, children receive a sandwich, fruit and milk at 34 public schools; more than half of the 6,400 families participating said they had experienced “medium to serious hunger.”
Thanks to an $8 million grant from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, the program is now being expanded to cover 20,000 children at 120 schools. The Greek government also says it is receiving European Union funding to provide fruit and milk in schools and food vouchers for bread and cheese; it is is also working with the Greek Orthodox Church to provide thousands of care packages.
This report of Greek children is, needless to say, in sharp contrast with those from just a few years ago about obesity in the country’s youth, as the increased presence of fast food and supermarkets stocked with convenience foods pulled children away from the traditional Mediterranean diet. In 2008, two-thirds of Greek children were overweight and facing the complications of obesity, from high cholesterol to diabetes.
Greece is entering its sixth year of recession and its unemployment rate has continued to rise, standing now at 27 percent and over 50 for those in their twenties. 6 out of 10 job seekers say they have not worked in more than a year. The 2012 Unicef report also notes that 439,000 children in Greece live below the poverty line. Of these children, not only do over 20 percent have a diet lacking in animal protein, but 37 percent lack adequate heating in their homes and over 20 live in what are defined as “poor environmental conditions.”
The hunger too many Greek children are now facing shows the ongoing effects of the austerity measures demanded by the country’s creditors to receive financing to address crushing debt. A graduate student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Thomas Herndon, has found that a famous study by Harvard University professors that is often used to make a case for austerity contains errors. You would think that this, along with so many Greek children going hungry and suffering from malnutrition, would make government leaders and economists rethink austerity policies that have called for raising taxes on electricity and cutting jobs, pensions and services.
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