How Food Insecurity Impacts Children

Food insecurity is a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life. Food insecurity can stem from many factors, including the affordability of food items, the location of places to purchase food and the availability of quality, nutritious food options. Currently, one in six children in the U.S. experiences hunger as a result of food insecurity, which can have long-term effects on the body and mind.

Effects of Food Insecurity on Child Development

Often, the most affordable food is the most unhealthy – especially in food deserts, where finding healthy food at an affordable price can be particularly difficult. Even when children are able to eat, their meals are often lacking necessary nutrients, causing children who grow up in food insecure households to trail behind their food-secure peers in terms of physical, emotional and cognitive development.

Poor Health Outcomes

Lack of nutrients puts children experiencing food insecurity at a higher risk for poor health outcomes. Research indicates that food-insecure children are nearly twice as likely to be hospitalized than food-secure children and are more susceptible to chronic diseases such as asthma. Long-term, hunger can also increase the risk of developing persistent health issues later in life, like cardiovascular or autoimmune diseases.

Social and Environmental Stress

Because food insecurity depends heavily on available income, many food-insecure households are often experiencing poverty or lack the presence of a supportive adult. This can lead to higher levels of social and environmental stress, which has been linked to increased depression and suicidal thoughts in adolescents. Children with hunger are often isolated and withdrawn in school or social settings, in part because they lack the energy and cognitive abilities to engage with other students.

Reduced Productivity

Deficiencies of key nutrients can also impact children’s education. For example, research shows that lack of iron causes hyperactivity and inattention, leading to a lack of focus, poor memory and decreased productivity. Food-insecure children and teenagers are more likely to miss school or repeat a grade, and research has indicated that food insecurity can reduce a student’s chances of graduating from high school.

Helping Children Experiencing Food Insecurity

In many communities, a large percentage of students rely on free and reduced breakfast and lunch at school. The absence of these meals at night, over the weekend, and during holiday breaks and summer, puts enormous strain on families. Locally, programs provided by the Freestore Foodbank such as Summer Meals or Kids Cafe help to provide regular, nutritious meals for the more than 80,000 children at risk of food insecurity in the tristate area.

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