Hunger and America's Youth Research Paper

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Hunger and America's Youth

If you've never had to skip a meal because you didn't have money to buy food, consider yourself lucky. Hunger in America's youth is a complex and multifaceted problem and a growing challenge for many American families. Food insecurity, or the lack of access to enough food for a healthy and active life, affects a wide range of American families. These families may be able to purchase food, but it simply doesn't last and they don't have enough money to purchase more. Families may not be able to afford to eat balanced meals. Meals may be skipped or cut back because the family didn't have enough money for food. or, families may have been hungry but didn't eat because there wasn't food ("Clients: Food Insecurity"). This growing problem affects too many of the youth of America. Even those who are not directly affected by hunger are indirectly affected by the effects. Obviously, an inadequate amount of food is the problem that needs to be addressed in this issue; however, there are other underlying causes that are the catalyst to hunger, including unemployment and underemployment. There are several programs in place that are geared to help America's youth suffering from hunger, like the school free and reduced cost breakfasts and lunches, but these do not fully meet the needs of hungry children. I decided to investigate this problem and see how a Backpack Program could benefit our local children.

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There are two classifications of hunger in American households -- very low and low food security. Those families "with very low food security have had one or more members experience reductions in food intake or disruptions in eating patterns due to a lack of adequate resources for food. Households with low food security, while faced with food-access problems, typically do not experience incidents of reduced food intake" ("Clients: Food Insecurity"). The statistics regarding poverty and hunger are disturbing.

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In 2009, 43.6 million people were poverty stricken, that's 14.3% of the American population. 15.5 million of these suffering from poverty were under the age of 18. This is approximately 20.7% of all children in America. More than 50 million Americans lived in food insecure households, in 2009, with 17.2 million of these Americans being children, this is 14.7% of the American population. Furthermore, 6.8 million families were considered to be in the very low food security category, meaning they had one or more family members reducing food intake due to the inability to be able to afford food. In this same year, "households with children reported food insecurity at almost double the rate for those without children" ("Hunger and Poverty Statistics").

The Feeding America Hunger and Poverty Statistics report states that these numbers were further exacerbated by head of household status. Households headed by single parents were even more likely to experience food insecurity. Thirty-six percent of families with single women as head of households reported food insecurity. Twenty-eight percent of families with single men as head of households also reported food insecurity. Research has also shown a relationship between race and hunger, with 24.9% of Black households reporting food insecurity, and 26.9% of Hispanic households reporting food insecurity as well.

Nearly five percent of all American families accessed emergency food from a local food pantry, one or more times, in 2009. Families classified as low or very low food security were 15 times more likely to access food through a food pantry. These families were 19 times more likely to have eaten a meal at an emergency kitchen as well. Fifty-seven percent of food insecure families, in 2009, participated in at least on of the three primary Federal food assistance programs. These include the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the National School Lunch Program, and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children. There are five states with a statistically higher incidence of food insecurity. These are:

Arkansas -- 17.7% of households

Texas -- 17.4% of households

Mississippi -- 17.1% of households

Georgia -- 15.6% of households

North Carolina -- 14.8% of households ("Hunger and Poverty Statistics").

Sadly, this is a growing problem, in America.

In 2006, Feeding America, a nationwide network of food pantries, were feeding 25 million Americans, including nine million children. By 2009, this number had increased by 46% overall. In 2009, Feeding America fed 37 million Americans, including 14 million children. This is a greater than 50% increase in hungry children this organization is serving. This means that approximately one in eight Americans rely on Feeding America's network of food pantries for food and groceries ("Hunger Report 2010"). Today, this organization feeds approximately 5.7 million people each week, this is a 27% increase over their figures in 2006 and equates to feeding one million more people each week than they did in 2006 ("Hunger Report 2010: Key Findings"). These disturbing statistics affect more than just the families going hungry.

Even if you've never experienced hunger personally, the effects of the increasing numbers of America's youth going hungry has a significant negative effect on society as a whole, indirectly affecting everyone. To understand these indirect affects, one must first understand the affects hunger has on children directly. Children who suffer from hunger experience both physical and mental effects. Children with inadequate food supply are two to four times more likely to suffer from a variety of health problems, including: fatigue, headaches, irritability, the inability to concentrate, frequent colds, and unwanted weight loss. Children suffering from hunger are more likely to be sick and therefore miss more school than their peers with adequate food. Children with food insecurity often suffer from iron-deficiency anemia. This can lead to both behavioral and developmental problems. In school-aged children, these can affect the child's ability to perform well in core academic subjects including learning mathematics or how to read. These children are often less social and interact less with their surroundings, further interfering with their educational experience. Hungry children cannot concentrate as well as their well-fed peers on school work, negatively affecting their ability to learn the basics, resulting in lower standardized test scores, increased tardiness and increased absenteeism, which further exacerbates the problem. Food insecurity also has a mental effect on children, resulting in anxiety about food and negative feelings about the child's self-worth, which further increases educational problems ("Health Consequences"). Ensuring all children have the best education possible has numerous societal benefits.

Research has shown that higher education levels leads to higher earnings for students. As so many of today's hungry children are living in low-income families, ensuring they have the best education possible will help break the vicious cycle of poverty and hunger. As it stands, hungry children perform poorly in school, when compared to their peers, which leads to higher incidence of drop outs and a reduced incidence of this demographic of children continuing on to college. Children suffering from hunger today are more likely to become those suffering in poverty tomorrow, with children that are hungry of their own. These future tax payers are an increased burden on society, relying more heavily on public assistance and contributing less in the form of taxes, over the course of their lifetime, which negatively affects everyone. Watts surmises that as education level rises, people have a greater capacity to serve the public sector and contribute to the public good, with a decreased reliance on public assistance.

In addition, higher education levels also is positively related to lower incidence of criminal behavior. "Crime imposes a variety of costs on society. These costs can be seen directly through the public sector's expenditures on prisons, and indirectly through the cost of private deterrence. Many of these costs are difficult to quantify, but one study estimates the national cost of crime to exceed $1 trillion" (Watts). Hungry children who perform poorly in school are more likely to commit criminal acts, now and in the future, resulting in increased societal costs. Better educated members of society are also more likely to be engaged with civil life, with greater involvement in community and community organizations, resulting in a stronger social cohesion, according to Watts. When children go hungry today, their educational future is jeopardized, which creates a variety of negative effects for everyone in society.

Currently, there are several programs in our area where families can turn, to help alleviate hunger for their children. The Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP)/Food Stamp Program is administered by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). As the largest program in the country, the program has been providing monthly assistance to low-income families for the purchase of food ("SNAP"). However, the small amount of food that can be purchased with the meager benefits this program offers often isn't enough, especially when participants want to buy more expensive fresh produce and meats for a healthier diet than pre-packaged, less expensive foods.

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) is a specialized food assistance program geared towards pregnant women, new mothers, infants, and children. This… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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