18 Million US Youngsters Are at Threat of Starvation: How Is the Downside Being Addressed and What Extra Can Be Executed?
By Heather Eicher-Miller, Purdue University; David Himmelgreen, University of South Florida; Diana Cuy Castellanos, University of Dayton, and Kecia Johnson, Mississippi State University
Editor’s Note: The economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic has increased the number of Americans who cannot always get enough to eat, including children. The USA interview asked four experts to explain how common child hunger is and what is being done to combat it.
1. How big is the child starvation problem in the US?
Heather Eicher-Miller, Associate Professor of Nutrition at Purdue University: Hunger has two very different meanings. It can describe the uncomfortable feeling you get when you haven’t eaten in a while. It is also a long-term physical condition.
People who go hungry for a long time not only feel uncomfortable. You may feel weakness or pain and be at increased risk for diseases like asthma, iron deficiency anemia, and poor bone health.
Hunger can, of course, arise when someone does not eat enough, but it is also a result of food insecurity – what happens when you lack the money or other resources to access enough correct types or amounts of food.
While hunger is a physical condition, food insecurity is an economic and social situation.
David Himmelgreen, Professor of Anthropology at the University of South Florida: Food insecurity and child hunger have skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic. By the end of 2020 there were an estimated 50 million Americans with unsafe diets, a significant increase from 35 million in 2019, the last year for which official data is available.
Feeding America, the country’s largest anti-hunger organization, estimated in 2019 that 12.5 million U.S. children – 1 in 6 – were at risk of starvation. Given the surge in the number of unemployed American workers and children living in poverty, a team of researchers found in July 2020 that 18 million children – 1 in 4 – were at least sometimes food insecure a few months after the coronavirus pandemic began.
Kecia Johnson, Assistant Professor of Sociology at Mississippi State University: Children who are hungry are more likely to be ill, recover more slowly from illness, and be hospitalized more often.
Among other things, diet insecurity increases the potential for obesity, heart disease and diabetes, including for children. And children with unsafe diets are at least twice as likely as other children to have a variety of health problems, including anemia, asthma, and anxiety.
Children with unsafe diets may also have more problems in school than other children and are more likely to experience social isolation.
2. What is being done about the problem?
Diana Cuy Castellanos, Assistant Professor of Dietetics and Nutrition at the University of Dayton: About 15 federal programs support Americans who need help to get enough nutritious food. The programs cover diverse populations including the elderly, low-income people, infants and children, and Native American communities and areas in need of emergency relief due to disasters.
The largest is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as SNAP. It provides grocery purchase assistance based on income and cost $ 85.6 billion last fiscal year. With a non-partisan aid package passed in December, most families of four can currently receive $ 782 monthly aid through SNAP.
Many people still call these benefits “grocery stamps,” but now, instead of vouchers to buy groceries, people are given a card that looks like a credit card with their grocery allowance.
The government also runs the Women, Infants and Children program, which provides nutritional assistance to low-income pregnant women, women who are breastfeeding, and women with at least one child under the age of 5. There is also the school breakfast and lunch program, as well as the Summer Food Service program, which provides free healthy meals and snacks to children and youth in low-income areas where school is unoccupied.
Many of these programs are aimed at specific populations such as children and the elderly. They all have one thing in common: They are designed to help low-income families buy groceries so that more of their limited income can be used for other needs such as housing and transportation.
Sky green: While federal nutrition programs have helped reduce the severity of food insecurity and child starvation, only a limited number of Americans who do not get enough to eat can benefit from it. For example, to get SNAP in Florida, individuals may not have more than $ 2,001 or $ 3,001 in their savings and checking accounts, depending on their age and disability. Other states have similar but different restrictions, making it difficult to estimate the number of Americans who need help but cannot get it. As a result, millions more people than ever are relying on drive-through pantries during the pandemic.
Johnson: According to Feeding America, there are roughly 60,000 pantries, dining programs and food banks that serve about 40 million people annually. Feeding America and its affiliated food banks and pantries also operate school pantries and backpacking programs that take students home with easy-to-use groceries such as boxed macaroni, cheese, and canned beans across the country.
For example, a primary school in Holmes County, Mississippi, has been providing the participating families with food and other relief supplies since 2019.
Eicher-Miller: Nutritional education is another way to combat food insecurity and reduce the number of starving children. For example, the federal government offers nutrition education to individuals and families who receive SNAP benefits through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education program or SNAP-Ed. It provides a comprehensive nutritional education on how many people receiving SNAP benefits who may have trouble serving healthy meals to their families on a limited budget can get the most nutrients per dollar of food.
The government supports SNAP-Ed in places such as food pantries, community centers, and food aid offices. According to a study by my team, families with children are less likely to experience food insecurity because of the practical budget advice, cooking classes, and nutritional information. When people get the hang of buying the healthiest foods they can buy on a tight budget, their children are less likely to go hungry.
I see nutrition education as a gift given over and over again in the sense that once someone has the knowledge, they can continue to use it to stay food safe in the future.
3. What are some of the more promising innovations?
Cuy Castellanos: Food insecurity is a complex problem for many reasons, including the limited access of millions of people to the fresh fruits and vegetables that everyone should be eating.
Because of this, I am delighted that people in low-income communities with few grocery stores or shopping opportunities from Los Angeles to Philadelphia are starting to grow their own groceries. Non-profit organizations and families grow groceries on their own property or use free property or property on school or church premises.
Some groups like Homefull and Mission of Mary Farms in Dayton, Ohio have even started building greenhouses to extend the growing season and produce root vegetables and leafy vegetables, as well as raise chickens.
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Johnson: A new community garden is also making a difference in the small, black-majority town of Maben in rural Mississippi, where there is no place to buy vegetables. Starting in 2019, the local authorities approved the conversion of a former school sports field into a community garden. After volunteers from a farming cooperative cleared and plowed the field, other volunteers planted and harvested tomatoes, purple peas, okra and watermelons. The gardeners mainly distributed this first wave of products to elderly people in Maben who had family gardens in previous years and gave away their own local groceries.
Sky green: Many innovative programs across the country aim to reduce food insecurity and improve the health of low-income Americans.
In the “Client Food Choice” pantry, customers don’t just pick up boxes with free, nutritious items. Instead, they can choose the foods they want and receive recipes and other types of nutritional education. There are also food prescription programs in hospitals and medical clinics where patients are screened for food insecurity and, if allowed, enrolled in SNAP and help with liaison with local or nearby pantries.
A growing number of nonprofits are also directing people to school pantries operated in K-12 public schools and on college campuses, as well as the Meal on Wheel Programs that help people living in their home country .
I believe that wherever possible, these programs need to be expanded or replicated in areas where there is high levels of food insecurity and child starvation, but where non-profit assistance is not available.
Heather Eicher-Miller, Associate Professor of Nutrition, Purdue University; David Himmelgreen, Professor of Anthropology, University of South Florida; Diana Cuy Castellanos, Assistant Professor of Dietetics and Nutrition at the University of Dayton; and Kecia Johnson, Assistant Professor of Sociology at Mississippi State University
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