In the U.S. today, nearly 16 million children face hunger. While hunger is damaging to everyone, it is particularly devastating for children. Studies have shown that child hunger has severe impacts on a child’s health, development and educational success. Children who face food shortages are more likely to experience frequent stomach and headaches, are at higher risk for chronic health conditions - such as anemia – experience more oral health problems and are more likely to be absent from school and fail a grade.
The federal child nutrition programs are critical to preventing child across America. They provide a nutritional lifeline for pregnant woman, infants, toddlers and kids while they are in school and out of school – in afterschool programs, over the weekends and during the summer. Every five years, Congress has the opportunity to reexamine these programs and make improvements, a process which is referred to as the Child Nutrition Reauthorization, or CNR. The next CNR is scheduled for this upcoming fall.
Meals provided through the child nutrition programs often provide the healthiest and most nourishing meal that a child receives all day. However, we know that meal assistance is not reaching all the children in need. That is why it is vitally important that Congress works to reauthorize the child nutrition programs this year – investing in expanding program access to close the child meal gap.
Millions of low-income, food-insecure children do not receive meal assistance while they are out of school. When school is out for the summer, child hunger is at its worst. Low-income children cannot rely on school meal programs for the breakfasts and lunches that nourish them during the school year. Some of these children are able to access meals at summer feeding programs, where community organizations such as food banks, summer camps, or Parks and Rec provide free meals to eligible children, but the vast majority do not. In the absence of a busing system during the summer and many families leaving their children with family or older siblings during the day, it is difficult for many children to access a summer feeding site. Nationally, only about 16 percent of children who get lunch assistance during the school year participate in a summer food program on a typical summer day. Congress can do more to close this out-of-school gap by enabling community-based organization to utilize more options to reach children during these times – such as through meal delivery programs, backpack programs, or providing families with a grocery card during the summer month.
The cost of poor nutrition is staggering, and not just to the individual child. In 2012, the impact of our nation’s hunger problem was estimated at over $167.5 billion per year –when considering the loss of economic productivity, the rising cost of poor education outcomes, preventable health care expenses and cost of charities to keep families fed.
Our leaders often remark that there is no greater investment that we can make than in our children. These numbers demonstrate that’s not just a feel-good saying. The child nutrition bill matters to our children. Congress must not miss this opportunity to invest in our children.
Act Now! Urge Congress to pass a strong child nutrition bill in 2015 by signing Feeding America’s petition. To learn more about the Child Nutrition Reauthorization, visit FeedingAmerica.org.
*Eleni Townes is a policy analyst at Feeding America.Tags: Hunger in the News , Advocacy