Americans who believe that this is the most prosperous country in the world are wrong.

The Legatum Prosperity Index says that on a list of the world’s 37 richest, healthiest, happiest and most prosperous nations, the United States ranks 17th behind Norway, New Zealand, Finland, Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Canada and others.

The rankings are based on business environment (in which the U.S. was first), economic equality (13th), governance (19th), personal freedom (23rd), social capital (sixth), safety and security (43rd), education (ninth), health (35th) and natural environment (23rd).

Some of those rankings may surprise you, including the idea that 34 other countries rank ahead of America when it comes to health.

One reason for this is that although many Americans eat well, not everyone does — and some eat too much, or at least too much of the wrong things.

With 36 percent of its adult population being classified as obese, the United States is ranked as the 12th fattest country.

Although it is nowhere on the list of countries where hunger is most acute, it is estimated that one of every eight Americans — about 41 million — struggle with hunger.

An estimated 15 million American households are classified by the federal government as “food insecure,” which means they don’t have access at all times to enough food for all household members.

Nearly 13 million American children face hunger, many of them coming from households that are led by single women or people living below the poverty level.

It is for this reason that many of our youngsters receive free or reduced-price breakfasts and lunches at their schools.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National School Lunch Program provides more than 30 million low-cost or free meals daily to children — more than 5 billion in 2016 — at a cost of $13.6 billion.

Free and reduced priced meals are provided to varying percentages of students at Allegany County’s elementary schools, based on their family income. All students at Westernport, George’s Creek, South Penn and John Humbird elementary schools received free breakfasts and lunches this year under a federal program.

That’s a good thing — and it would be far better if it weren’t necessary — but the last day for public school students in Allegany County will be June 12.

What happens then? Will some of them go hungry?

That’s the thought that inspired creation of programs like the Frostburg Summer Lunch Box, which has been in operation for nearly two decades and will serve 175 lunches daily for children beginning June 17. (See: “Summer volunteers keep kids well-fed,” June 3 Times-News, Page 7B, for a list of groups who help in the project.) 

It will run for nine weeks and provide 175 lunches daily, thanks to 295 volunteers who will spend about 3,000 hours working to assemble and package sandwiches, fresh vegetables and fruit, a dessert, chips and a drink. Leftovers go to others who are in need.

Lunches are distributed at Beall Elementary, Beall Kids Corner, Mountain Ridge Kids Korner, Beall Camp, St. Michael’s Day Care, Eckhart United Methodist Church, Trinity Assembly of God and St. George’s Episcopal Church in Mount Savage.

Other programs are sponsored by the Cumberland Parks and Recreation Department and individual churches to feed needy children or at-risk adults and pregnant women.

Food for Thought, which operates out of Trinity Lutheran Church in Keyser, West Virginia, provides needy children in Mineral County with meals on weekends and during the summer. It packages and distributes about 420 meals each week.

Nobody should be allowed to go hungry in America, least of all a child. Thanks to those who volunteer their time, effort and contributions to food distribution programs.

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