Children Are Better Off Fed
It's that time again when child nutrition programs are up for reauthorization on Capitol Hill. There will be many who support our existing programs, such as WIC, SNAP, the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program and the National School Lunch Program, and there will be many who will want to trim these programs, remodel them or somehow save money through financial cutbacks.
Regardless of your camp or your position, I want you to consider a few things:
One in Five Households Are Food Insecure
What that really means is that the kids living in these households are hungry — almost 16 million of them, according to Feeding America. Their parents don't have enough money to feed them on a consistent, predictable basis so they can grow, develop and thrive.
Children Are Our Future
The National School Lunch Program originally was established, in part, to ensure our youngest citizens were nourished so our nation would have a pool of healthy warriors should we need them in a time of war. War has changed over the years, and we now rely on a blend of manpower and machinery to engage in battle. However, we still need educated, forward-thinking, resourceful men and women to wage our future battles, sustain and grow our country, and steer our nation into the future. The children we raise and nourish today are key to our national strength and success tomorrow.
Hungry Kids Are at an Academic Disadvantage
Several studies have documented the negative effects of food insecurity and hunger on the academic performance of children. Namely, lower math scores, a likelihood of repeating a grade, tardiness and missing school altogether. The good news is that studies also show that kids who eat school lunch have better overall nutritional intake and those who eat breakfast improve their math grades, along with their overall academic performance. School meals are integral to closing the educational gaps created by poverty, food insecurity and hunger.
Nutritional Deficits Strike Early
Malnutrition is a real concern for children who are food insecure, presenting its own challenges for the growing child. Early nutritional deficits can impair the growth and development of the brain and may cause lifelong problems with learning and academic potential. Many nutrients are essential for normal growth and development, and those nutrients come from adequate amounts and a variety of food. SNAP and the National School Lunch Program are just two programs that help children get the nutrients they need.
Poverty Doesn't Cure Itself
Success stories of disadvantaged children picking themselves up and out of poverty aren't commonplace. When we do hear them, they often are marked by great struggle and perseverance and a lot of assistance along the way. The assistance provided by child nutrition programs is vital to helping kids succeed despite poverty.
Life happens. People fall on hard times, experience dwindling resources or are simply born into a situation where resources are limited. This reality knows no demographic: a United States veteran, a college mom, a divorced parent, a retiree, a young child. You can see real faces of hunger on StoryCorps, such as this one about a young veteran mother striving to educate herself and feed her child.
I believe children are better off fed. When we feed children, we feed their bodies and their brains. We help them grow to their potential. We help children learn. We break the cycle of hunger. We help families get back on their feet. We prevent malnutrition and, perhaps, we even strike out a bleak future.
A child who is fed is a child who has a chance.
Jill Castle, MS, RDN, is a pediatric nutrition dietitian, consultant, speaker and author of Eat Like a Champion: Performance Nutrition for Your Young Athlete and co-author of Fearless Feeding: How to Raise Healthy Eaters from High Chair to High School. Read her blog, Just the Right Byte and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.