Policy Priorities

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Child Nutrition and Obesity

Proper nutrition is essential to a child’s well-being.  Ensuring that all children have access to healthy, nutritious food will ultimately improve educational outcomes, reduce rates of childhood obesity, and enhance the mental and emotional health of our children.

Food insecurity affects over 12 million U.S. households.  Food insecure households are those which struggle to afford the food that their family needs.  Food insecurity is particularly devastating for children whose developmental well being depends on access to adequate nutrition.

  • In 2009, nearly one in four households with children struggled to afford the food they needed.
  • Preschool and school-aged children who are food insecure are more likely to suffer from problems like anxiety.
  • Elementary school children who experience severe food insecurity are four times more likely than their peers to require mental health counseling; seven times more likely to be classified as clinically dysfunctional; and seven times more likely to get into fights frequently.
  • Food-insecure children are more likely to be hospitalized due to problems associated with poor nutrition. In the United States in 2003, nearly 400 children under the age of 5 were hospitalized due to nutritional deficiencies.
  • Food-insecure children are more vulnerable to infections, and end up hospitalized with illnesses that their food secure peers fight of successfully on their own or with basic primary care.

Poor nutrition impacts children’s health even before birth. An expectant mother’s nutrition intake necessarily affects her child.

  • Pregnant women who do not receive proper nutrition can negatively impact their babies’ long-term health and development as food insecurity can lead to cognitive and physical impairments such as cleft palate, spina bifida, and brain defects
  • Poor iron and folic acid intake have been linked to preterm births and fetal growth retardation respectively; Prematurity and intrauterine growth retardation are critical indicators of medical and developmental risks which not only impact children’s short-term well being but extend into adulthood where they have been linked recently to obesity, adult onset diabetes, and risk of cardiac disease.
  • Overall fetal growth is significantly influenced by maternal nutrient intake. Birthweight, in turn, is strongly correlated with perinatal and infant mortality, with low birthweight heightening the risk of mortality.

Hunger can negatively impact children in a variety of ways. Food insecurity and poor nutrition has been linked to low birth weight and birth defects, obesity, mental health issues, dental health problems and poor education outcomes.

  • Data suggests that, by third grade, children who had been food insecure in kindergarten saw a 13% drop in their reading and math test scores compared to their food-secure peers.
  • Insufficient nutrient intake during childhood has been linked to physical and mental health problems as well as emotional and behavioral problems, learning deficiencies, and lower grades.
  • Low birth-weight babies whose families were food insecure in early childhood are almost 28 times more likely than their peers to be overweight or obese at age 4 ½ 
  • Children whose families experienced food insecurity while the child was a toddler are 3.4 times more likely to be obese at age 4 ½.
  • Data from the The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey suggests that food insecure teens are more likely to have repeated a grade and missed more school days.  More than 40% of teens living in food-insecure households had repeated a grade, as compared with 20.7% of food-secure teens.
  • Food-insufficient teenagers were more than twice as likely to have been suspended, almost twice as likely to have a lot or some difficulty getting along with others, and 4 times as likely to have no friends.