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The Lasting Impact of Food Insecurity on Children

More than 13.1 million children in the United States are food insecure. Additionally, 14.5 million children live in poverty. Those are alarming statistics, especially when you consider the developmental, behavioral, and psychological impacts hunger can have on children.

These issues can begin to sprout at the very beginning of a child’s life. Pregnant women who are food insecure are at risk for birth complications and their children may be at risk of being born underweight. During the first few years of life, a well-balanced diet is crucial to a child’s development. Children without access to enough nutritious food during this period are likely to develop more slowly and have trouble learning. As these children progress through life, they become more prone to illness and tend to be hospitalized more frequently than children from food secure homes.

ChildSadOutsideSchoolStudentBookHungrySummer.jpgAccompanying these health concerns, are the changes in behavior that are also common among children who are food insecure. Kids who don’t have enough to eat are less likely to be social and participate in activities, both in school and out. Additionally, children who are hungry lack focus, which can result in poor academic performance. Programs such as the National School Breakfast and Lunch Programs are crucial to fighting food insecurity among low-income children.

Furthermore, children who suffer from food insecurity or poverty are more inclined to experience long-term psychological effects. According to a 2016 study from Cornell University, low-income families often endure much more stress than higher income families. During the study, researchers tested participants’ short-term memory, helplessness, general mental health, and physical stress. The results confirmed that people who had faced food insecurity or poverty during childhood have more difficulty with short-term memory, are more subject to giving up when given difficult tasks, are likely to agree when presented with statements such as “I argue a lot” or “I am very impatient,” and displayed much more physical stress. The study concludes that the most effective way to battle these issues is to take action as early as possible and take preventative measures.

Fortunately, there are things we can all do the help address this national tragedy. From food drives to advocacy, there are so many ways to get involved and help in the fight against hunger.

Visit our Take Action page to learn more about the fight against hunger and what you can do to help.