Food Insecurity: Story of a Generation Derailed
September is No Kid Hungry month, reminding us about the often overlooked issue of child hunger. Millions of children are “food insecure,” meaning that they lack regular access to food and may have skipped meals or gone hungry. More than one in five children nationwide – or 16.7 million – are food insecure, though as many as half of children are food insecure in some parts of the country.
As the cost of living and food prices increase over time, more and more families struggle to cover even their most basics needs. According to a Gallup poll in August, 20 percent of Americans report that they could not afford food for their families in the past year.
Distressingly, food insecurity disproportionately affects households with young children up to age four, and in these critical years the consequences of food insecurity on a child can be far-reaching.
Children who are food insecure are twice as likely to be in fair or poor health, and are also more likely to experience disruptive symptoms such as stomachaches and headaches. Among toddlers and infants, food insecurity leads to poor nutrition, which affects their brain development – stunting their cognitive, emotional and social growth – and leaves them well behind their peers.
It is no surprise, then, that under-nutrition in early childhood impairs a child’s ability to learn later on in life. And the chronic stress that comes with food insecurity can even go so far as to physically alter a child’s brain architecture in early childhood.
Recognizing that serious hunger issues among children must be addressed, some communities across the country have responded proactively. For example, a food bank in rural Tennessee uses school buses to deliver lunches to low-income children in hard to reach areas. Organizations like Sesame Street have also relayed a powerful and hopeful message to tackle child hunger.
In the face of poverty and economic recessions, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is often the first line of defense that families have against hunger. Over half of its recipients are children, and forty percent of SNAP households include preschool-aged children – a particularly vulnerable population. Studies have even confirmed that children receiving SNAP benefits are more likely to be food secure and in better health than children who are otherwise eligible but not enrolled. Just last year SNAP helped lift 2.1 million children out of poverty.
Child food insecurity is a national issue that threatens not only family dinner tables, but the healthy development of children, and, ultimately, the productivity and well-being of our future workforce. It’s time we address food insecurity to set up our children for healthier futures, as well as fuller stomachs.
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