10% of US kids don’t get enough to eat, and it could get worse, analysts say
McClatchy Washington Bureau April 19, 2022
(Tribune News Service) — About one in 10 children lived in a household where they didn’t get enough to eat from 2019 to 2020, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics.
Experts say the issue could worsen if more isn’t done to ensure that federal programs aimed at addressing the problem are adequately funded.
The study found that 10.8% of children up to age 17 experienced food insecurity during the study period. A family is considered food insecure if it is unable to regularly get enough food that is nutritionally adequate, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The study also found vast disparities in the demographics of children who were affected by food insecurity.
Nineteen percent of Black children and nearly 16% of Hispanic children lived in households where they didn’t get enough to eat compared with 6.5% of white children, according to the study.
Children living in households with one parent and no other adult were 2 1/2 times more likely to go hungry, and households with three or more children had higher rates of food insecurity than households with fewer kids, according to the study.
“Access to sufficient and nutritious food is a key social determinant of health,” the study authors wrote. “As such, disparities in food insecurity may contribute to inequalities in child health status.”
The COVID-19 pandemic caused many parents to have a harder time getting enough food for their kids, said Dr. Jessica Soldavini, an assistant professor in the Department of Nutrition at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill.
The impacts on the economy led many adults to lose their jobs, making it more difficult for them to afford food, she told McClatchy News. But also, the closing of schools around the country created a challenge for children who relied on accessing free- and reduced-priced lunches at school, she said.
But even as most schools around the country have reopened and many states lift their pandemic-related restrictions, other factors could continue to make affording food a challenge, she said.
Experts say the war in Ukraine is causing the price of food, fuel and other commodities to skyrocket.
The global food price index reached an all-time high in March, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Gas hit its highest national average price on record on March 11 at $4.33 a gallon, according to AAA.
“With prices increasing, that is also causing more challenges for families, so that’s going to make it even harder for them to afford food,” she said.
Another concern is that some pandemic-era programs aimed at helping more children get access to food could be coming to an end if they are not extended, she said.
For example, a federal program that waived the onsite monitoring of school meal programs is set to expire on June 30. The program has allowed many more children than were previously eligible to access free meals at school, Soldavini said.
“Some children who are now able to get the meals during the school year without having to pay for them, next school year will not be able to do so if these waivers don’t get extended,” she said.
A lack of nutrition can affect a child’s development as well as their physical and mental health and academic success, she said.
“It’s important to be aware of this issue,” she said. “And there are programs out there that are able to help address it and it’s important to make sure there’s adequate resources and support provided to those programs.”
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