Pediatricians play a big role in treating sick kids, but we work with many other members of the community to keep kids and families healthy, and having enough food is a huge part of this overarching goal.
In-school meals – especially school breakfast – are an easy, accessible way to feed all kids in a safe and healthy way. My hope as a pediatrician and as a mom is that we can take this small step to effect a huge change for our kids.
What is Food Insecurity?
Food insecurity happens when a family doesn’t have easy access to enough healthy food. It’s a problem that affects 13.1 million children in the US, with 541,000 children living with severe food insecurity in 2015.
School-based lunches have long been the norm for all children, but more and more school-based breakfasts have been made available to families in need. As a direct result, children in schools that provide this service are performing better academically, have fewer behavioral problems, and are less likely to be too skinny or suffer from obesity.
This simple fix has helped improved children’s health, well-being, and education. And it’s not just the kids who come from food insecure households who benefit. There is evidence that schools who offer this program to all children (regardless of socio-economic status) see an overall improvement in all children.
The Truth About Hungry Children
As a pediatric resident I often treat children who are ill, but I also have the privilege of helping to keep children and families healthy. More often than I would like, I meet children whose families have trouble making ends meet, and I see first-hand how this can harm their health.
People often think of hungry children as skinny, quiet, malnourished. The truth is, hungry children come in all shapes and sizes. From the obese girl with ADHD to the skinny boy with asthma, we know that these children can all be affected equally by hunger. They are more likely to be sick more often, recover from illness more slowly, and be hospitalized more frequently. We also know that it’s not just hunger but the fear and anxiety of being hungry that affects the health and well-being of families. The toxic stress that children experience as a result of the constant concern about running out of food can have a lasting imprint on their brain and body growth.
What Can We Do About This Problem?
What we need is a flexible, community-based approach where children and families are offered practical resources. School breakfast is a proven solution that ensures all of our children start the day ready to learn. In honor of National School Breakfast Week, remember that the children in our community will benefit from all the support we can give them, and that makes for more healthy children!
Please visit the links below to learn more about how hunger affects children and what we can do about it.
Lea Sheward, MD, is a pediatric resident at the University of Vermont Children’s Hospital.