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On the way to work as I was walking up the subway stairs at a transfer point, West 4th Street, Manhattan, the stream of traffic constricted from four abreast to single file. Gingerly avoiding deep murky puddles and dodging dripping ceiling cracks I edged by a man who was sitting on the bottom stair looking like he had been sitting there for a while.

He was the size of four men. His stomach was exposed, stretched bare skin that reminded me of how I looked when I was eight months pregnant. He was eating a sandwich, staring ahead at something none of us could see, silent. The way he delicately handled the food and ignored everyone filing by him and everything else around him made me think–this is not just about eating.

Coming home on a crowded train, a small older man shrunken inside an over-sized sweatshirt and baggy, ragged long jeans fell into the space next to me. He looked like he hadn’t eaten in a long while, but wasn’t asking for anything. He was so underweight that his skin seemed to disappear into the hollows of his cheeks. He drifted forward in that tell-tale way people on heroin tend to do, or maybe from extreme hunger I don’t know, and then he fell asleep as the train rocked, his bony elbow poking into my side. At each stop he seemed to wake, looked around, and made odd kissing noises.

The contrast struck me hard as I’m working on an article about obesity in America just now, as it affects our children from infants to adolescents and young parents. The more I research and learn, the more the pattern of obesity here among our children confuses me. Obesity results from excess, yes, and hunger from want, but obesity is not increasing among those of us who live in excess really, in the land of plenty. It is increasing most among the impoverished.

What do you think about obesity and hunger? Is it really about eating, or symptomatic of deeper needs? Please leave a comment to share your views.