Children and Hunger
1 in 5 children in Colorado are food insecure. This means that they do not have consistent access to nutritious and adequate amounts of food necessary for a healthy life. In Greeley, approximately 61 percent of our students receive free and reduced lunches, and the number of children in Weld County who qualify for these programs is only slightly less. At this moment there are close to 14,900 kids in our county that may go to bed hungry tonight. This problem is totally preventable. WFB recognizes the severe implications hunger has on a child's future physical and mental health. Go to our Programs page to learn what we are doing to combat this problem. Or check out the Map the Meal study that maps hunger not only in Weld County but across the country.
Inadequate nutrition or food insecurity has adverse affects on:
Physical Health: Insufficient nutrition puts children at risk for illness and weakens their immune system. The immature immune systems of young children, ages 0 – 5, make them especially vulnerable to nutritional deprivation and as a result, the ability to learn, grow, and fight infections is adversely affected. Consequently, without the proper nutritional intake children are at risk for poor health and hospitalization. Research reveals, in comparison to food secure children, children from food insecure families are 90 percent more likely to be in fair or poor health and have 30 percent higher rates of hospitalization.iv Not only does the lack of sufficient nutrition take a tool on a child’s health but has economic consequences for families as well. The average cost for a single hospitalization for pediatric illness is $11,300.
Behavior and Mental Heath: The lack of adequate nutrition affects the cognitive and behavioral development of children. Child development is the manner in which children attain skills in memory, cognition, language, motor ability, social interaction, behavior and perception. Research by Wehler, Scott, and Anderson 1995 found that food insecure low income households were more likely to experience irritability, fatigue, and difficulty concentrating compared to other children. Research has shown that food insecurity was associated with grade repetition, absenteeism, tardiness, anxiety, aggression, poor mathematics scores, psychosocial dysfunction and difficulty with social interaction among 6 to 12 year old children. Food insecurity has also shown to be associated with suicide and depressive disorders among 15 to 16 year old children after controlling for income and other factors. Food insecurity not only has an impact on children’s mental health but also on their mothers as well. Research by Casey, Goulsby, Berkowitz, et al 2004 found an association with maternal depression and food insecurity in addition to reported poor child health.
Development: Food insecurity puts children in jeopardy of developmental risk. Developmental risk is an uninterrupted existence of vulnerabilities that is characterized with the slow or unusual development of children in areas such as speaking, behavior, and movement, which increases the likelihood of later problems with attention, learning, and social interaction. Rose, Jacobs, et al. 2006 found that young children living in low income and food insecure households are more likely to be developmentally at risk than children from food secure households. Of particular concern, are children of color who have disproportionately higher rates of poverty and food insecurity than white children. Research from the Children’s Sentinel Nutrition Assessment Program (C-SNAP) found that in comparison to Black children living in low income but food secure households, Black children living in low income and food insecure households experience 57 percent higher odds of their parents identifying significant development concerns. For Latino children, children living in low income and food insecure households experience twice the odds of their parents identifying significant developmental concerns than Latino children living in low income and food secure households.
School Readiness and Achievement: Children from food insecure households are likely to be behind in their academic development compared to other children which ultimately makes it difficult for them to reach the same level of development as their fellow food secure peers. Research conducted by Frongillo, Jyoti, and Jones 2005 found that food insecurity impairs academic development of young school-age children. This study revealed that the reading and mathematical skills of food insecure children entering kindergarten developed significantly more slowly than other children. Fortunately, there are federal nutrition assistance programs available to help low income families with meeting the nutritional needs of their children and protect them from the consequences of malnutrition and under nutrition.
Nord, Mark, M. Andrews, S. Carlson. United States Department of Agriculture, Household Food Security in the United States, 2009.
Cook, John. Child Food Insecurity in the United States: 2006-2008, Feeding America.
Children’s Sentinel Nutrition Assessment Program. Deanna Wilson. Protecting Children from Hunger and Food Insecurity in 2005-2006. C-SNAP Brief. March 2005.
Cook, JT., Frank, DA., Berkowitz, C., et al. Food Insecurity is Associated With Adverse Health Outcomes Among Human Infants and Toddlers. Journal of Nutrition. 2004; 134: 1432-1438.
Owens, PL, Thompson, J, Elixhauser, A., Ryan, K. Care of Children and Adolescents in U.S. Hospitals. Rockville, M.D. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality; 2003. HCUP Fact Book No. 4; AHRQ Publication No. 04-0004.
Children’s Sentinel Nutrition Assessment Program.Frequently Asked Questions Page.
Alaimo, K., Olson, C.M. and Frongillo, E.A. Food Insufficiency and American School-Aged Children’s Cognitive, Academic and Psychosocial Development. Pediatrics 2001: 108; 44-53.
Casey, P., Goolsby, S., Berkowitz, C., Frank, D., Cook, J., Cutts, D., Black, M., Zaldivar, N., Levenson, S., Heeren, T., Meyers, A. and C-SNAP Study Group. Maternal Depression, Changing Public Assistance, Food Security, and Child Health Status. Pediatrics 2004: 113; 298-304,
Rose-Jacobs, R., Black, M., Casey, P., Chilton, M., Cook, J., et al. Household Food Insecurity and Risk for Children’s Developmental Problems. Pediatric Academic Society Meetings, San Francisco. May 2006.
Children’s Sentinel Nutrition Assessment Program .Hettinger de Cuba, S, Frank, D., Rose-Jacobs, R.Nourishing Development A Report on Food Insecurity and the Precursors to School Readiness among Very Young Children. July 2006.