It seems improbable in a country where 90 million of its citizens are battling obesity that 49 million are also having food security issues, however, that's the reality in the United States today. And more than 16 million of our most-vulnerable residents -- America's children --are paying the price.
Experts in hunger make distinctions about food security levels, but that's a discussion for the policy makers. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) definition of food insecurity as a “condition of limited or uncertain access to adequate food” is good enough for this discussion.
Children and Hunger
The 16 million children with food security concerns is a shocking number that has serious consequences for the future. Studies show that children who experience food insecurity and hunger are sick more often, struggle developmentally, experience learning difficulties, and have more social and behavioral problems.
These challenges ripple through the economy as these kids become adults and enter the workforce. Childhood hunger issues manifest later in life as teens with these problems are more likely to become poor students, fall behind academically, and drop out of high school, which will lower their income-earning potential throughout their adult lives.
The nutritional aspect of hunger is another factor that has lingering effects.
It's a cruel irony that limited access to fresh, healthy, and affordable foods can plant the seeds that lead to obesity as hunger in early life increases the odds that a child will become obese later. And the health implications of obesity like cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes, and other diseases are well-known.
Problems with Solutions
One of the goals of Let's Read. Lets' Move. is to improve access to healthy and affordable food. Improving that access for the 23.5 million Americans who live in food deserts can be a game changer. Techniques like gleaning and starting community gardens can be great first steps to improve that access.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) can also provide assistance for those battling hunger and struggling to put food on the table. A USDA analysis determined that 3-in-10 people eligible for SNAP benefits don't participate in the program. The program can be a lifeline in times of need.
Any level of concern about having enough food to feed a family is a hunger issue. The bottom line is that we have to insure that children have access to healthy food and sufficient nutrition, and battle food insecurity on every front. It's foundational to creating a brighter future for our children and our nation.