New Report Shows a Major Challenge for Early Learning: 1 in 5 Children are Hungry

September 24, 2012 | Thrive By Five |  Link to article

We write a lot about the importance of school readiness, high-quality classrooms and access, but when a child arrives hungry at preschool or child care, it erodes those investments.

A new report from Feeding America shows 1 in 5 U.S. children were hungry or food insecure in 2010, which means they had limited or uncertain access to food. In Washington, the hunger rate hit a record level in 2010, with nearly a quarter (24 percent) of children dealing with hunger, according to a Children's Alliance report.

The connection to early learning is clear. During the first five years of life a child's brain grows at an incredibly rapid rate, and healthy regular meals are critical fuel for that development.

"It is hard to reach your optimum development when you are hungry," Hannah Matthews, head of child care and early education at the Washington, D.C.-based social policy think tank CLASP, said.

It is not only families mired below the federal poverty line who deal with hunger. Working poor families led by parents holding down two jobs can struggle to serve enough healthy meals, Matthews added.

As the economy continues to struggle to regain momentum, hunger will remain a major challenge for families in Washington and around the country. As policymakers build better early learning systems, the federal government needs to expand nutritional support, Matthews said.

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