Aug. 17, 2011 — -- A little 2-year-old boy came to the hospital hungry, not just for dinner, but every day of his young life. He is smaller than he should be and his organs, including his brain, are not developing fully. And he lives in Boston, one of America's most prosperous cities.
Doctors at Boston Medical Center's Grow Clinic, which provides assistance to children diagnosed with "failure to thrive," say they have seen a dramatic increase in the number of children they treat who are dangerously thin.
"What's so hard is that a lot of families are working so hard," said Dr. Megan Sandel, an associate professor of pediatrics and public health at BMC. "They are working jobs. They are earning money and their dollars just don't go far enough."
That is life for nearly 15 million children living in poverty in the U.S., according to the National Center for Children in Poverty.
Some of their stories were depicted in first-person picture stories by 40 women in Philadelphia who documented their family life for a project called "Witnesses to Hunger." It was a graphic record of what it is like to live in crowded bedrooms and open a largely empty refrigerator and pantry that is nearly bare.
Pauline S. told ABC News that while she had some macaroni, Spaghetti-Os, noodles, and peanut butter and jelly in her pantry tonight, the food would be gone by next week.
"It really hurts being a mother to see and to feel the hurt for my children," she said. "Not being able to give them what they want and not being able to have everything that other children have -- it hurts a lot."
The number of children living in poverty in the U.S. is up nearly 20 percent from 2000, according to the NCCP, because of higher unemployment and foreclosures. It's a problem across the nation but children are the worst off in Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi. They fare better in New Hampshire, Minnesota and Massachusetts.
U.S. food banks say they face slow and steady starvation rather than sudden African famine.
"We talk about global hunger and we have extended tummies and we have sad eyes," said Marie Scannell, executive director of the Food Bank of Somerset County in New Jersey. "That's not what you'll see. For instance, in Somerville, N.J., you'll see sadness in the children's eyes. That's really the worst part for us."
Across the country, nearly 5.5 million children live in families that have lost homes to foreclosures and 8 million children live in families where at least one parent has lost a job, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation.