Hunger in America: America's Children are At-Risk

Mar 17, 2011

By Stephanie Schmit

Hunger is undeniably an issue for America's children. One-third of the 50.2 million people living in food insecure households are children, according to the latest available data.

In spite of what we know about hunger, the House budget proposal, which failed in the Senate, would cut funding for WIC in half. This program helps meet families' nutritional needs and in 2009 served more than 9.1 million participants per month, including almost half of all infants born in the United States.

Last year's Child Nutrition bill addressed hunger and nutrition and included provisions to improve the nutritional quality of meals served at schools and child care settings, enhance access to free and reduced price meals, expand acces to WIC and other nutrition programs. Such supports and hunger relief can be part of a comprehensive system of services and ensure that all young children have access to benefits they need to support healthy development.

These programs, however, can only be successful with sufficient resources. Lawmakers need to understand the reach of food insecurity in this country and make certain that their budget proposals don't take food out of children's mouths in the name of deficit reduction.

Two studies released last week help shed light on hunger in America and among children. The Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) released a study based on analysis of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index. The study found that 18 percent of Americans suffered from food hardship in 2010. The survey identified respondents as facing food hardship if they experienced a time in the past twelve months when they did not have enough money to buy the food that they or their family needed. Although the percent of people experiencing food hardship was down slightly from 18.3 percent in 2009, it was still higher than the 2008 rate of 17.8 percent.

Nearly one in four (24 percent) Americans are worried that in the next year they may be unable to put food on the table for their families, according to a separate study. This number is even higher for Hispanic (39 percent) and African American (31 percent) families.

Further, Americans see the significant impact that hunger has on children. Eighty-nine percent of respondents said that hunger negatively affected the physical development of infants and toddlers; 88 percent said that it negatively impacted physical health; and 76 percent said it negatively affected schoolwork. Indeed, low-income children in food insecure households are 76 percent more likely than their food secure counterparts to be at developmental risk.

Given what we know about hunger and its impact on child and family well being and that far too many families are struggling to put food on the table, lawmakers should take budget cuts for critical nutrition programs off the table.

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