Frequently Asked Questions
Why is nutrition relevant to child health and development?
Poor nutrition increases young children’s risk of contracting illnesses and compromises their immune systems, creating a downward cycle in which children lose weight with each illness. Because the family often has no extra food (or money to buy it) to build them back up again, children are left malnourished and more susceptible to the next illness, which is often more serious and leads to more depletion, so that children end up in hospital suffering from the infection-malnutrition cycle.
Household food insecurity refers to uncertain or limited access to enough food for all household members to lead an active and healthy life. Child food insecurity is the most severe form of food insecurity, in which food supply is so limited that parents can no longer buffer their children from scarcity.
What is the size of the problem in the United States?
The best way to be food insecure is to be a young child; 22.3% of US children under age 6 live in a food insecure household, compared to 11.3% of adult-only households, according to USDA data from.
In 2010 report, the Feeding America/Second Harvest emergency food network reports providing annual hunger relief services to 37 million Americans—including 14 million children—an 46% increase over 2006.
Click here to go to the United States Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service, where you can access national data and evaluation on food and nutrition assistance.
What are the health consequences of food insecurity for children?
Children's HealthWatch research shows that the foundations of lifelong health are laid very early in a child's life. Nationally, compared to their peers in food secure households, infants and toddlers living in food insecure households are:
- 30% more likely to have had a past hospitalization.
- 90% more likely to be in fair or poor health.
- Nearly twice as likely to have iron-deficiency anemia.
What are the development consequences of food insecurity for children?
Developmental gaps between food insecure infants and toddlers and their food secure peers are present long before starting kindergarten. Infants and toddlers from low-income families are put at increased risk for cognitive, motor or behavioral problems by food insecurity. Developmental risk in early childhood is defined by a continuum of vulnerabilities: slow development in one or more areas—such as speaking, moving, and/or behavior and identifies children with an increased likelihood of later problems with learning, attention, and/or social interactions.
Developmental risk can be “invisible.” Even when children’s growth has not yet been affected, food insecurity can negatively impact infants’ and toddlers’ development. Underweight infants and toddlers are 166% more likely to be at developmental risk as compared to normal weight infants and toddlers. Infants and toddlers in low-income, food-insecure households are 76% more likely to be at developmental risk.
What are the major policy implications of food insecurity among children?
- The first three years of life are a critical period for good nutrition, which establish the scaffolding for children’s future health, academic achievement and subsequent workforce participation.
- Of all the many factors jeopardizing children’s health, development and school readiness, food insecurity is the most easily remedied.
- Nutrition assistance programs, like CACFP, WIC and SNAP/Food Stamp Program, are effective and efficient ways to decrease food insecurity.
What can be done to protect young children's health and development?
1. Reduce food insecurity. Reduced prevalence or severity of food insecurity is correlated with children’s participation SNAP/food stamps, WIC and other nutrition assistance programs. Research shows that such programs reduce children’s hospitalization costs. By reducing food insecurity, nutrition assistance programs promise to also reduce poor child health and developmental delays, thereby potentially decreasing health care and special/remedial education costs. Increasing access to healthy foods can also provide children with the appropriate nutrients to grow and develop.
To read more about research on food insecurity’s effect on children, click here.
2. Broaden eligibility for nutrition, housing and energy assistance programs. Strains on household budgets caused by housing and energy expenses also affect families’ ability to access and purchase healthy food. Reaching vulnerable populations, such as families on the cusp of eligibility and legal immigrant families, could help to decrease poor health, growth and developmental risk for young children from low-income families who are disproportionately affected by these problems.
To read more details on our policy recommendations, click here.