We live in one of the wealthiest countries in the world, and yet, the U.S. is home to millions of children who go hungry every day.
If you’re able to put food on the table every day and never have to worry about feeding your kids, it can be really hard to wrap your head around this issue, as it was for me.
I wondered, what does it really mean when kids “go hungry?”
Living in a food insecure household can mean a family doesn’t have food in their home and not enough money to purchase it.
Some families may have food, but not enough to feed their families each month. As a result, parents may skip meals or cut back on their kids’ portions.
The reasons for food insecurity are complicated, but there are some important facts about child hunger you should know. Here are 5.
1. Children go hungry regardless of where they live
According to a 2017 report by No Kid Hungry, 1 in 6 kids in the U.S.— an estimated 13 million—face hunger.
A misconception is that food insecure families only live in low-income areas. In fact, 93 percent of Americans don’t believe they know children in their neighborhood who go to school hungry, a 2019 report found.
Yet kids in affluent communities are certainly affected. According to a 2019 report by Feeding America, every U.S. county and congressional district has people who face hunger, at a rate that ranges between 3 to 36 percent for the overall population.
2. Child hunger has devastating health effects
Kids who go hungry have an increased risk for a host of chronic health conditions and problems including anemia, asthma, anxiety, depression, tooth decay, fatigue, headaches, stomachaches and more frequent colds. Hungry kids are also more likely to be hospitalized.
3. Child hunger affects school performance and behavior
Eating a healthy breakfast is important for a child’s overall health and academic performance, but sadly, 59 percent of kids from low income families don’t eat before school because of food insecurity and three out of four teachers say they have students who regularly come to school hungry.
As a result, teachers say students who are hungry lose their ability to focus, have poor academic performance and behavioral and discipline problems.
Kids from food insecure households are also more likely to have developmental delays, be held back, repeat a grade in elementary school, and drop out of high school.
4. Children are more likely to face hunger than the general U.S. population
The rates of children who are food insecure are higher than those of the overall population in the U.S., a recent report found. Although child hunger is a nationwide problem, rural and southern communities are impacted the most.
5. More kids go hungry during the summer
Kids who rely on free and reduced school lunch and breakfast are often left without meals during the summer months.
According to No Kid Hungry, only 1 in 7 kids who are eligible for free summer meals through the national Summer Food Service Program, aren’t getting them, either because families don’t know about the program or they don’t know where to find it.
To help a family in need, search the USDA’s meal service site finder tool or text ‘FOOD’ or ‘COMIDA’ to 877-877.
6. Children may not eat healthy, even when they have access to food
Local food banks can help to fill the gap for food insecure families, but they may not always have the healthiest foods.
Most food is processed and packaged food that have a long shelf life and tend to be made with refined carbohydrates like white pasta and rice, and high in sodium, like canned goods.
In fact, less than 10 percent of the food offered through food banks nationally is fresh produce, according to The New York Times.
What’s more, an April 2017 study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found diets of people who access food banks have low nutritional value, and inadequate amounts of fruits and vegetables, dairy and calcium.
Even when nutritional intake was sufficient, many did not meet the recommendations for vitamins A, C, D, and B vitamins, or iron, magnesium, and zinc.
The good news is that through initiatives like Feeding America’s National Produce Program, more food insecure families are getting the healthy food they need.
What you can do to help end child hunger
Childhood hunger is a widespread problem in the U.S., but there are several ways you can help.
To help protect and expand federal programs like SNAP for food insecure families, contact your senators and representatives today.
Local food banks need volunteers to sort, stock shelves, pack and distribute food. Search Feeding America for a list of local food banks in your area.
If you’re looking to volunteer with your kids, it’s a great opportunity for them to learn about—and serve—others in need, but many food banks do not allow kids under age 10.
Check with your local churches, shelters, and community organizations, or search VolunteerMatch.org for other opportunities that you can do with younger kids.
Curb food waste
Despite the overabundance of food in the U.S., we’re a nation of waste. Homes and businesses like grocery stores and restaurants are wasting more than 80 percent of food.
If you own or operate a food business, contact Meal Connect, an organization that accepts excess food and donates it to local food banks, food pantries and meal programs.
For tips for your home, read, 10 Tips To Reduce Food Waste When Feeding Kids.
Fundraise or donate
No Kid Hungry and Feeding America have information available for people interested in fundraising opportunities, special events, and ways to donate.