Approximately 6.7 million youth ages 10 through 19 receive assistance from the Feeding America network each year. But limited research has focused on teenagers’ lived experience with food insecurity.
Supported by the ConAgra Foods Foundation, Feeding America partnered with the Urban Institute to better understand how teens experience and cope with food insecurity in the United States. The research collaboration used qualitative methods – a series of focus group discussions with teens, ages 13-18, in 10 low-income communities across the country.
The project found that teens are aware of the broader economic challenges that are connected to food insecurity. They have a host of ideas about changes to the food system, public policy, school nutrition programs, and charitable responses that they believe would better meet the needs of food-insecure teens in their communities. Findings are presented in two briefs.
Bringing Teens to the Table
Bringing Teens to the Table: A Focus on Food Insecurity in America explores how teens view the food environment, their experiences with food insecurity in their households and communities, and the barriers to participating in food assistance programs.
Teens are active participants in family food acquisition and management strategies, and they have innovative ideas about how to strengthen school meal programs. However, they fear stigma around hunger and actively hide it as much as they can. Teens also perceive that charitable feeding programs are not available to them. Although parents try to protect them from bearing the responsibility of providing for themselves or their family members, teens in food-insecure families routinely take on this role.
Impossible Choices: Teens and Food Insecurity in America provides a deeper look at the coping strategies teens use when faced with food insecurity, including those that may put them at long-term risk.
Teens would overwhelmingly prefer to earn money through a formal job, but youth employment opportunities were extremely limited.
Some teens facing serious deprivation resort to strategies to get food that involve personal risk and potential long-term negative consequences. These coping strategies include criminal behavior or transactional dating relationships. These extreme examples signal the seriousness of teenage hunger among some youth and the risks it poses.