When children experience food insecurity, they usually do not experience only hunger. It often may be paired with inadequate housing, insufficient healthcare and weakened community and family support. When you see a child that is struggling with hunger, it may mean that there are additional problems that present a multi-faceted challenge.
A study from the Tufts University Center on Hunger, Poverty and Nutrition Policy demonstrates that the effects of child hunger in America also reach out to touch other areas of a child’s life, and most notably, their cognitive development.
The study shows that there is a link between nutrition and cognitive development, providing evidence that the brain’s ability to develop can be negatively impacted when adequate nutrition is not available. The key findings from the study include:
- A child not getting enough to eat on a regular basis can delay brain development and the child’s ability to learn. The longer food insecurity continues, the greater chance of cognitive delays.
- Low levels of iron, which is detected in nearly a quarter of low-income children and is a key concern with child hunger in America, is linked with impaired cognitive development.
- Low-income children that come to school hungry have lower scores on standardized tests than low-income children that arrive at school well-fed.
- When nutrition is improved, the effects of food insecurity can be treated.
When a child is food insecure, the body naturally prioritizes the small amounts of food and how it will be used to fuel the functions of the body. Energy from food is first applied to the maintenance of organs like the heart and lungs, followed by use for growth. Social activity and learning are the last place that energy from food is applied, so children that do not have adequate access to healthy foods may experience social and learning delays.
It is no secret that children that are receiving enough food to fuel not only their organs and their growth, but also fuel their learning, will lead a more productive life. They will be higher-achieving in school and will be able to expend energy toward learning about how to make good choices and have positive social interactions. In short, children that are well-nourished will be healthier, happier and more able to contribute to a healthy society.
Child hunger in America does not happen in isolation. These children may not only have cognitive delays because of food insecurity, but they may also have untreated health problems or parents that are under high levels of stress from job insecurity.
Second Harvest Community Food Bank provides a variety of programs that serve food insecure children in our area and help to combat child hunger in America. One in five children in our service area is food insecure. Through Backpack Buddies, the No Hunger Summer, Fresh Start perishable food pantry, Kids’ Café and programs available through our Partner Agencies, we help connect kids with nutritious foods that promote cognitive growth and a bright future.
If you would like to join our mission to build hunger-free communities, consider making a donation of time, money or food. We rely on the generosity of our neighbors to provide food resources to the children in our service area.