An Unwilling Partnership With the Great Society Part II: Physicians Discover Malnutrition, Hunger and the Politics of Hunger

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Abstract

The civil rights and social legislation of the Great Society following the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was slow to provide relief for black in the South. Mississippi Senator James Eastland led an effort to defund Head Start, including his state’s program, Child Development Group of Mississippi (CDGM), a program with a strong medical component. A senatorial committee, including Robert Kennedy, came to investigate CDGM in 1967. The unimaginable poverty, hunger, malnutrition and chronic disease found in black families was vehemently denied by Eastland. Visits of physician groups then corroborated the findings. The Mississippi delegation made sure that food relief never came and funding for CDGM ceased. Health services were lost to 6000 impoverished children. The epic television documentary, Hunger in America, soon premiered on network television. It triggered ongoing efforts to address health disparities, including implementation of the National Nutrition and Health Survey (NHANES). Similar physician leadership is needed to address the lasting health disparities in our country.

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