The Personal Side Of Hunger In America

(CBS)

CBS News correspondent Seth Doane talks with 13-year-old Lewis Roman.

My favorite part of this job is getting the chance to sit down and chat with someone I'd never normally meet. The microphone can sometimes act as a little passport into a stranger's life …

You talk with a lot of people in the course of a week or month in this line of work and sometimes someone sticks out from the rest. On this story it was 13-year-old Lewis Roman, whom I met in a shelter in Philadelphia. Lewis sleeps in one room with his mother, brothers, and sister while he goes to school and tries to have a normal teenage life. We were there to talk with Lewis about hunger and he tells his story in tonight's latest "Children of the Recession" piece on the CBS Evening News piece.

"I don't like letting nobody … know I'm hungry," he says. Lewis told me about trying to fall asleep (and sometimes not being able to) as a way to deal with hunger. He told me how he'll get so hungry that he'll feel like throwing up.

On the train back to New York I thought a lot about Lewis - as I have in the days since we shot that interview. He seemed so shy and reluctant to tell his rather sad story. But there was also a genuine sparkle in his eye and an innocence that has not yet been lost - despite all he has seen in his short life. I wondered how long someone can keep this sparkle alive - while witnessing so much sadness - until it dims …

Hunger in America isn't what you might think. In extensive phone calls and while doing research for this story, I learned that a child may technically be eating something but can still be hungry - and thus damaging IQ and impairing cognitive growth. Perhaps a child's last meal was a bowl or cereal or box of inexpensive noodles. While technically they may have eaten something, it wasn't nutritious enough to help them develop. When a child is growing -- it's particularly important in years 0-5) - what little of nutritional value consumed is going to basic organ and body development, and the brain is starved of the nutrients it needs.

As our story explains, there are already 12.5 million children at risk for hunger in the U.S. And the recession is expected to plunge 3 million more children into poverty. When you look at the issues surrounding "Children of the Recession" hunger and malnutrition is a huge one … which can have lifelong consequences.