Findings Highlight Long Term Physical And Cognitive Consequences
July 1, 2009
The direct and indirect effect of child hunger in the U.S. is a contributing factor to the nation’s economic woes and puts America at a competitive disadvantage, according to a new report issued today by Feeding America, the nation’s largest domestic hunger relief organization.
Child Food Insecurity: The Economic Impact On Our Nation, a report on research on the impact of food insecurity and hunger on child health, growth and development, details the economic effect of child hunger in the United States. It articulates the lifelong consequences child food insecurity has on individuals and families. (Food insecurity is defined as the lack of access at times to enough food for an active, healthy life; or limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate foods.)
The report states that the U.S. economy is losing its competitive edge to countries doing a better job of addressing nutrition and food insecurity in preparing children to learn and achieve their full potential. The report was funded with a grant from the ConAgra Foods Foundation.
“Child hunger is robbing us of the best of America’s imagination and ingenuity,” saidthe report’s author, John Cook, Ph.D., of the Boston Medical Center and Boston University School of Medicine, a nationally-recognized expert on child hunger. “Sustainable economic recovery depends on freeing children of the burden of hunger and malnutrition and supporting their optimal growth and development.”
“The impact of child hunger is more far reaching than one might anticipate. Child food insecurity creates billions of dollars in costs to our society. Child hunger affects a child’s health, education and job readiness,” said Cook. “Our best universities are graduating more students from other countries and fewer from the U.S. because we are failing to prepare our children to learn and develop their best skills, creativity and abilities.”
According to the USDA, 12.4 million American children–one in six–are food insecure. One in five children under the age of five live at risk of hunger in 13 states.
“This is the first report to show the direct, tax-payer burden inflicted by child hunger – along with a clear link to long-term impacts, such as life-time earnings and the ripple effects through our economy,” said Vicki Escarra, president and CEO of Feeding America. “It calls into question whether ongoing economic recovery can be sustained if child hunger is not eliminated; we can only achieve a prosperous future for all Americans if we ensure, right now, that all children have access to enough nutritious food for active, healthy lives.”
“It is also important to note in this context, however, that the Federal Government plays a very significant role in providing food to children at risk of hunger. The recent stimulus bills and increases in funding for USDA nutrition programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as the Food Stamp Program), and The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) have made great strides in ensuring that more low-income children and their families have increased access to food. The Federal Government is the largest provider of food to at-risk children,” Escarra said.
Child Food Insecurity: The Economic Impact On Our Nation explains how a hungry child becomes a diminished adult, and a burden to society. Some of the report’s summary findings include:
· Child hunger first causes health problems:
Hungry children are sick more often, more likely to be hospitalized, and to suffer physical, emotional and developmental impairment.
· Child hunger then creates educational problems:
Under-nutrition before the age of three fundamentally changes the neurological architecture of the brain and central nervous system, harming a child’s ability to learn. Hungry children have lower academic achievement.
· Child hunger leads to workforce and job readiness problems:
Adults who experienced hunger as children are not well prepared mentally, emotionally, physically or socially to perform in contemporary work environments. Child hunger leads to greater absenteeism and turnover in the work place.
“The report’s sobering statistics serve as a wake-up call to the price we pay when even one child goes hungry in the United States,” said Chris Kircher, president, ConAgra Foods Foundation. “Through our partnership with Feeding America on this research, we’re building on ConAgra’s long-standing commitment to raise awareness of the issue of child hunger and keep it at the forefront of the national agenda to inspire action.”
The ConAgra Foods Foundation also partnered with Feeding America to recently publish the first-ever, state-by-state analysis of child food insecurity and hunger. ConAgra Foods’ 15-year partnership with Feeding America is the largest corporate initiative solely dedicated to fighting child hunger. The company has donated more than $27 million and more than 200 million pounds of food to Feeding America since 1993.
“Knowledge is as powerful as food in the fight against child hunger,” added Escarra. “The ConAgra Foods Foundation deserves credit for understanding this. Their leadership in this area is an example of how the private sector can mobilize resources to heighten public awareness and perception of the interrelated issues, root causes and effects of child hunger. Their efforts make us all stronger advocates, and are critical to helping us all find sustainable solutions to this problem.”
Dr. Cook concludes, “There has not been adequate attention paid to the role child food insecurity plays in impeding economic growth. This report clearly makes the case that children are a fundamental engine of growth in the economy, and all children in the U.S. must be adequately nourished. If we fail, not only does the child suffer, but our society does as well.”
The report is available at www.feedingamerica.org/recovery