Children’s Food Security

In the United States, children's food security is an important issue to address. Food insecurity includes both inadequate quantity and quality of food. Children need not just enough calories, but enough nutrients for proper growth and development. Improper growth has health implications that can affect a variety of development outcomes. Food security can affect children's success in terms of educational outcomes, family life, and overall health. For example, food insecurity has been linked to worse development trajectories for children, such as impaired social skills and reading development. School meal programs have been implemented as a solution to alleviating issues with food insecurity.

Implications of food insecurity
Inadequate quantity and quality of food affect the health and well-being of children in several ways. Food insecurity is a huge risk to the "growth, health, cognitive, and behavioral potential" of those who are "in or near poverty". Most behavioral, emotional, and academic problems are more prevalent among hungry children than non-hungry children. Food insecurity is linked to lower math scores, greater problems getting along with peers, poor health status, and higher prevalence of illness. A study by researchers at the Boston University School of Medicine found that those children aged 6-11 years in food insufficient homes had lower arithmetic scores, were more likely to have repeated a grade, seen a therapist, and had more difficulty getting along with peers than similar children in food-secure homes. Additionally, hungry children are much more likely to have clinical levels of psychosocial dysfunction. They also show greater signs of anxious, irritable, aggressive, and oppositional behaviors than low- income, non-hungry peers.

In addition to being at a greater risk for these behaviors, children without access to adequate diets face challenges to physical health that make them more prone to illnesses. Researchers have found that undernutrition leads to an array of health problems that have the potential to become chronic. Undernutrition can lead to issues such as "extreme weight loss, stunted growth, weakened resistance to infection," as well as "in worst cases, early death." Illnesses and such adversities lessen the amount of time students can spend learning and attending school.
The cognitive, behavioral, and physical health problems that undernourished children face are exacerbated in those children who are from more impoverished backgrounds. Scientists now believe that "malnutrition alters intellectual development by interfering with overall health as well as the child's energy level, rate of motor development and rate of growth." Moreover, "low economic status can exacerbate all of these factors, placing impoverished children at particular risk for cognitive impairment later in life.". Paying special attention to food security in school children is especially important for securing their livelihood and abilities not just during primary education, but also for later in life.

Rates of food insecurity
The rate of food insecurity in recent years has been on the rise. Between 2007 and 2008 the rate of food insecurity in the U.S. increased from 11.1 percent to 14.6 percent, which was the largest annual increase since research began in the mid-1990s. Among households with children, food insecurity increased from 15.8 percent to 21 percent during this period. A total of "4 million American children experience prolonged periodic food insufficiency and hunger each year," which amounts to 8 percent of children under the age of 12 in the U.S. An additional 21 percent are at risk of hunger. School meal programs are an opportunity to alleviate the rise in food insecurity in order to support children's health, wellbeing, and educational and behavioural outcomes. These programs function in three ways: they give meals to kids who may otherwise forego them, free up household resources for other family members, and reduce uncertainty about household food availability. Additionally, they provide nutrients and vitamins necessary for proper development.

Broader capabilities
Food insecurity and its effects on education have even broader implications on poverty and inequality in U.S. society. Education and food both fall under the umbrella of what are known as the "Central Capabilities," which were created by Martha Nussbaum, an American philosopher. Her central capabilities, which are integral to raising people above the poverty threshold, include the following: life; bodily health; bodily integrity; sense; imagination and thought; emotions; practical reason; affiliation; other species; play; and control over one's environment, both political and material. Nutrition plays into a person's bodily health and bodily integrity, and education has broader connections to sense, imagination and though, practical reason, and control over one's environment. A lack of these capabilities leads people to fall into poverty traps, leaving them without the proper opportunities to rise out of the traps. Government policies such as meal programs are an avenue by which the government can prevent people from falling into poverty, as well as lift people out of poverty.

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