The young and hungry: The reality of food insecurity for many American children

Posted on July 11, 2014 by ELCA World Hunger

Teri Mueller

No one likes to be hungry, but for many American families, food insecurity is a regular part of life. Currently, one quarter of American children are at risk of hunger (See Table 12 in Bread for the World’s 2014 Hunger Report). In 2012, the prevalence of food insecurity among U.S. households was 14.5%. Children were hit even harder as 21.6% faced life with food insecurity.The last six years have been tough on American children. Food insecurity jumped up after 2007, which corresponded with the economic recession of 2008. To be specific, there was 16.9% prevalence of food insecurity among children in 2007 and 22.5% prevalence of food insecurity among children in 2008. (See Table 12 in Bread for the World’s 2014 Hunger Report). That is an increase of 5.6% in solely one year.

Young people especially suffer as a lack of food can jeopardize more than immediate health. For instance, frequent food insecurity can affect the development and educational attainment of children. Hungry children are more likely to be late to school or miss altogether.1 If they do arrive, they struggle to focus on learning.

Children who do go to school often rely heavily on the food provided through programs like the National School Lunch Program (NSLP). Sometimes the lunches provide students with the only actual meals they receive all week. The NSLP provides families that are under or at 130% of the poverty level with free school lunches for their children. Families who fall between 130 and 185% of the poverty level qualify for reduced-price lunches.

As summer continues, many children who relied heavily on school lunches must find other ways to get food. Because of this, programs like the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) have been established. The week of June 2nd-6th served as the kickoff of SFSP for Summer 2014.  However, significantly fewer children are reached by the SFSP in comparison to the NSLP. Specifically, a USDA report mentioned in a Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentential article says that only 2.3 million of the 30 million children that receive reduced price meals during the school year continue to receive meals over the summer.

The problem of food insecurity among children has not gone away in the United States, but federal programs like NSLP, SFSP, and others help young Americans receive food and nutrition. However, danger has arisen as many of these programs are up for reauthorization in the near future. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 permanently implemented the NSLP and the School Breakfast Program, but other programs are set to expire in 2015. They must be renewed in order to continue. The SFSP and the Special Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) are two examples of programs that need to be reauthorized soon. The continuation and strengthening of these programs along with the work of many community organizations is important for the future of American youth. With time and effort, we will hopefully begin to see a decrease in food insecurity among children in the future, which will result in improved conditions for the growth and development of America’s young people.

Teri Mueller is an intern with ELCA World Hunger.

  1. Mariana Chilton & Donald Rose, “A Rights-Based Approach to Food Insecurity in the United States. American Journal of Public Health 99:7, 2009: 1203-1211