President Biden has renewed the focus on “ending cancer as we know it” moonshot, devoting $1.8 billion over seven years for research, aiming to reduce cancer deaths by half in the next 25 years. (Cue crowds cheering and ticker tapes falling!)

Boxes loaded with dry goods, bread and bananas sit at the Harrison Food Bank last fall prior to distribution. The food bank serves as many as 500 families a week.  Andree Kehn/Sun Journal, File

Here is our rain-on-the-parade question: What if there is a better moon? This better moon:

• Affects 18 times as many people as cancer each year.

• Shortens millions of lives, compared to 600,000 dying from cancer each year.

• Has lifelong impacts for children and boosts chronic (expensive) illness for adults.

And, unlike cancer, this one needs no research to prevent or cure it. Every dollar spent will have a guaranteed positive impact on health immediately.


This better moon is hunger.

Despite Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program serving more than 41 million people, food insecurity remains one of the nation’s leading health issues. SNAP benefits are inadequate (and are about to become even more inadequate when pandemic benefits end) to feed people. The average SNAP household uses 75% of the benefit by the middle of the month. With better planning and budgeting, could a family make it last the month? The short answer is no: Current benefits do not ensure enough food.

The benefit is meant to supplement the family’s resources. Yet a family who meets SNAP’s income limits cannot have other resources for food. A three-person household in Maine can earn up to $45,991 per year and get SNAP benefits. That sounds like a lot, but they would spend nearly half of their take-home pay on rent for a two-bedroom apartment in any of the metropolitan areas of Maine.

There is an idea that social support should be inadequate in order to motivate people. Under this philosophy, people should be poorly fed on public programs; otherwise, they would not need to lift themselves out of poverty. The practical reality is that a chronically hungry person will tend to focus on the immediate problem at the expense of long-term gains. A hungry child will act out in school, for example. It’s no surprise that schools that serve breakfast have fewer behavior problems; schools that serve breakfast during regular school hours rather than having kids come early have even better results.

Lots of good things happen when people are not hungry. People who are fed have less depression, diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Pregnant women have fewer mental health problems. Children have less asthma and depression and fewer suicidal thoughts; they also spend less time in the hospital. With less aggression and fewer cognitive problems, children can do better in school and go on to become high school and college graduates, even cancer scientists. Improved health is only the beginning of the benefits. Imagine, if the 53 million people who now rely upon food banks were instead able to work, live, parent, learn and contribute to our communities, what we could accomplish!  We might even cure lots of diseases, including cancer.

True, hunger does not have cancer’s sex appeal. There are no white-coated scientists furrowing their brows, squinting at microscopes. There is no triumph of human skill over the forces of nature. Yet, this simple, straightforward problem has remained unsolved. We could ask ourselves why spending $1.8 billion on cancer makes sense, when we neglect basic health-giving goods for so many.

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