Hunger and Health Literacy

Do you believe that a child is personally responsible for going hungry over a weekend?  The thinking person would say, of course not.

  •  Did you know that when a child goes hungry over a weekend, they are not able to learn until Wednesday afternoon?
  • Did you know that children facing even moderate nutritional vulnerability are hindered in their cognitive development?
  • Did you know that hunger can:

                           … slow growth…

                           …increase illnesses, like colds and


                           …lower concentration and

                               alertness in school…

                            …inhibit brain development?

OK, these are the results of children going hungry over a weekend.  There are more than 17 million children in the United States at risk of hunger.

Are those children personally responsible for what is happening to them and their brains and bodies?

Children who have had this happen do not recover the lost cognitive capacity, lost health, lost school time.  Reasonable, otherwise generous, people suggest that growing up poor should not be an excuse for poor choices.

In a recent article in Time Magazine, “Child hunger is robbing us of the best of America’s imagination and ingenuity,” said the report’s author, John Cook, Ph.D., of the Boston Medical Center and Boston University School of Medicine, a nationally-recognized expert on child hunger. “Sustainable economic recovery depends on freeing children of the burden of hunger and malnutrition and supporting their optimal growth and development.”

Unfortunately success and failure in the US are too often attributed to the individual.  We become so focused on individual responsibility that we forget other realities.  For example, under-nutrition before the age of three fundamentally changes the neurological architecture of the brain and central nervous system, harming a child’s ability to learn.  If the brains of children are harmed by hunger and if we want to prevent poor health choices and health behavior in adults, then we cannot let anyone grow up in socio-economically disadvantaged situations that include short rations.  That is the only way to fairly expect decision-making that is healthy.

“The impact of child hunger is more far reaching than one might anticipate. Child food insecurity creates billions of dollars in costs to our society. Child hunger affects a child’s health, education and job readiness,” said Cook. “Our best universities are graduating more students from other countries and fewer from the U.S. because we are failing to prepare our children to learn and develop their best skills, creativity and abilities.”

There are things you can do to help!  One mom saw a need in Guilford County, North Carolina and started BackPack Beginnings.  This 100% volunteer organization is trying to reduce childhood food insecurity, one child at a time.  Check out the website, Feeding America and take action!


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