More Than 1 in 5 American Children Live at Risk of Hunger

A new report issued by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) finds that 16 million children in the U.S. live in food insecure households. 

This means that more than 1 in 5 children are at risk of hunger, according to Household Food Security in the United States in 2010. 

The report also found the nearly 49 million Americans in total, or 1 in 6, are food insecure, meaning that children are more likely to live in food insecure households than the general population. 

“No child in America should go to bed hungry and families should never have to struggle to put healthy meals on their tables. It is imperative that as America continues to recover from the economic downturn; our nation’s leaders provide adequate funding and assistance to ensure that all eligible children are able to benefit from the federal nutrition safety net. Doing so is critical to the health and well-being of America’s next generation,” said Bruce Lesley, president of First Focus, a bipartisan child advocacy organization. 

Feeding America specifically addresses child hunger through a series of programs; the Kids Cafe program, which provides a late-afternoon meal or snack to children at 1500 locations throughout the country; the BackPack Program, which provides children with a backpack filled with nutritious, child-friendly foods for consumption on weekends at more than 5,000 schools and other distribution sites; the School Pantry Program, which provides children and their families with food to prepare at home at more than 400 schools around the country; and the Summer Food Program, which provides meals to children during the summer months at over 1,800 locations. 

“We are particularly concerned about children who do not receive adequate nutrition. Experts in food insecurity tell us that lack of adequate nutrition and hunger are serious threats to children’s health, growth and development,” said Vicki Escarra, president and CEO of Feeding America. 

Nearly 14 million children are estimated to be served by Feeding America, more than 3 million of which are ages 5 and under. 
Feeding America also released “Map the Meal Gap: Child Food Insecurity 2011,” in August, which shows that rates of child food insecurity range from a low of seven percent, in Steele County, North Dakota; to highs of more than 50 percent in Zavala and Starr Counties, which are both in Texas. 

Among the key findings in both recent USDA reports and Feeding America research are the following: 

• 20 percent or more of the child population in 40 states and D.C. lived in food insecure households in 2009. The District of Columbia (32.3%) and Oregon (29.2%) had the highest rates of children in households without consistent access to food. 

• In 2009, the District of Columbia and four states have the highest rate of food insecure children under the age of 18 are the District of Columbia, Oregon, Arizona, Arkansas, & Texas. iii 

• 54 percent of client households with children under the age of 3 participated in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).i 

• 32 percent of pantries, 42 percent of kitchens, and 18 percent of shelters in the Feeding America network reported “many more children in the summer” being served by their programs. I 

• In 2010, 16.4 million or approximately 22 percent of children in the U.S. lived in poverty. 

• Research indicates that hungry children may do more poorly in school and have lower academic achievement because they are not well prepared for school and cannot concentrate. 

• In fiscal year 2009, 48 percent of all SNAP participants were children 

• During the 2010 federal fiscal year, 20.6 million low-income children received free or reduced-price meals through the National School Lunch Program. Unfortunately, just 2.3 million of these same income-eligible children participated in the Summer Food Service Program that same year. 

“These grim statistics point to the same conclusions again and again: Our federal nutrition safety net helps keeps millions of children in America within the safety zone of food security. But too many children are living on the brink of hunger, and we must make sure that our government leaders never attempt to balance the budget on the backs of our children,” said Escarra.

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Rhoda Cohen, J., Mabli, F., Potter, Z., Zhao. Mathematica Policy Research, Feeding America. Hunger in America 2010. February 2010. 

Feeding America. Gundersen, C., Waxman, E., Engelhard, E., & Brown, J. Map the Meal Gap: Child Food Insecurity 2011. 

DeNavas-Walt, Carmen, B.D. Proctor, C.H. Lee. U.S. Census Bureau, Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2010. September 2011. 

Cook, John.Feeding America. Child Food Insecurity: The Economic Impact on our Nation.Executive Summary.May 2009. 

Leftin, Joshua, Gothro, A., Eslami, E.. USDA, Office of Analysis, Nutrition and Evaluation. Characteristics of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Households: Fiscal Year 2009, October 2010. 

USDA, FNS. National School Lunch Program: Participation and Lunches Served. Data preliminary as of September 2011.  SOURCE