Ending Childhood Hunger in America, One Breakfast at a Time

While childhood obesity continues to emerge as one of the major stories in our national conversation, here at Beyond Breakfast we want to make sure the issue of childhood hunger stays on the forefront as well. We already know that breakfast in the classroom is a powerful tool that can be used to fight childhood hunger, and we think it is important to talk about the devastating effects of food insecurity on children in America today.

First, let’s take a look at some sobering numbers. As reported on the Share Our Strength website, 17.2 million American households are struggling to put food on the table; 3.9 million of these households have children, which means 16 million children are at risk of hunger. Sixteen million children can be a big number to wrap our heads around, so let’s translate that—one in five children is at risk of hunger in America today; a full 20 percent. To determine which households at risk we don’t measure hunger, but rather “food security” and “food insecurity.” Let’s talk about what those terms mean.

What does it mean to be food insecure? “Food security” means that a household has access by all members at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life which includes (at a minimum) both the ready availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods, and the ability to access the foods in socially acceptable ways (e.g. without stealing, scavenging, resorting to emergency food supplies, or other coping strategies). “Food insecurity” is defined as limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate or safe foods, and uncertain/limited ability to acquire acceptable foods in acceptable ways. Food insecurity and food security are measured along a spectrum, which is divided into four ranges. The USDA breaks down food security and insecurity on their website in the following way:

  1. High Food Security: Households had no problems, or anxiety about, consistently accessing adequate food.
  2. Marginal Food Security: Households had problems at times, or anxiety about, accessing adequate food, but the quality, variety, and quantity of their food intake were not substantially reduced.
  3. Low Food Security: Households reduced the quality, variety, and desirability of their diets, but the quantity of food intake and normal eating patterns were not substantially disrupted.
  4. Very Low Food Security: At times during the year, eating patterns of one or more household members were disrupted and food intake reduced because the household lacked money/resources for food.

Depending on how a household replies to survey questions regarding the four categories (above) they are placed in one of four categories: Least Severe, Somewhat More Severe, Midrange Severity, Most Severe. USDA food security statistics are compiled by the Census Bureau, based on a national food security survey which is conducted as an annual supplement to the monthly Current Population Survey (CPS)—the same survey that provides data for America’s monthly unemployment statistics, and annual income and poverty statistics. About 50,000 households respond to the food security questions each year in December. You can read the December 2010 “Household Food Security in the United States” report (PDF) online.

Share Our Strength reports additional information regarding food insecurity among American households:

  • Rates of food insecurity were substantially higher than the national average among households with incomes near or below the Federal poverty line, among households with children headed by single parents, and among Black and Hispanic households.
  • The typical food-secure household spent 27 percent more for food than the typical food-insecure household of the same size and composition.
  • Fifty-nine percent of food-insecure households in the survey reported that in the previous month they had participated in one or more of the three largest Federal food and nutrition assistance programs: SNAP, WIC, and school lunch.

Is the issue of childhood hunger perhaps bigger than you thought? Do the numbers and statistics give you pause? Don’t pause for long—take action. You can be an advocate for ending childhood hunger in America, whether you are a parent, school food professional, a chef, a student, an administrator, or just a concerned member of your community. Hunger is a problem, but there are actionable solutions and you can help. At Beyond Breakfast we already know that breakfast is going to change the world, and more and more people across America are catching on to the positive benefits that breakfast-in-the-classroom programs can have to help end childhood hunger. We urge you to get involved and be a champion for breakfast in the classroom in your own community—people are already working to change the world, one breakfast at a time:

  • The Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) knows that implementing, expanding, and protecting School Breakfast Programs is part of both the short-term and long-term solution to ending childhood hunger.
  • Share Our Strength knows that through partnerships and grants we can give children a healthy way to start their day through effective school breakfast programs.
  • Children’s Alliance knows that when you fight hunger with school breakfast programs, you are helping students learn all day long.
  • The Hunger Action Center knows that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and that only 8 million of the 18 million children qualified for free or reduced price meals in 2007 were taking advantage of the School Breakfast Program; they know that increasing the reimbursement rate will encourage more schools to participate, and give more children access to breakfast in school.
  • In Texas, the Texas Hunger Initiative and Share Our Strength teamed up to fight childhood hunger, and they know that breakfast is an important tool in that fight—their goal is to give more kids a healthy start to their day through increasing participation in the School Breakfast Program.
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