About one in 10 children lived in a home where they did not have enough to eat between 2019 and 2020, according to a new report from the National Center for Health Statistics of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Experts say the problem could get worse if more is not done to ensure that federal programs designed to address the problem are adequately funded.
The study found that 10.8% of children up to the age of 17 experienced food insecurity during the study period. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a family is considered food insecure if it cannot regularly get enough nutritionally adequate food.
The study also found large disparities in the demographics of children affected by food insecurity.
According to the study, 19% of black children and almost 16% of Hispanic children lived in households where they did not have enough to eat, compared to 6.5% of white children.
According to the study, children living in households with one parent and no other adults were two and a half times more likely to go hungry, and households with three or more children had higher food insecurity rates than households with fewer children.
“Access to adequate and nutritious food is a key social determinant of health,” the study authors wrote. “As such, disparities in food insecurity may contribute to inequalities in children’s health status.”
The COVID-19 pandemic made many parents more difficult to get enough food for their children, said Dr. Jessica Soldavini, an assistant professor in the Department of Nutrition at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill.
Impacts on the economy have caused many adults to lose their jobs, making it difficult for them to pay for food, he told McClatchy News. But also, the closure of schools across the country created a challenge for children who depended on access to free, low-cost lunches at school, he said.
But while most schools across the country have reopened and many states are lifting pandemic-related restrictions, other factors could continue to make food a challenge, he said.
Experts say the war in Ukraine is causing the price of food, fuel and other commodities to skyrocket.
The world food price index hit an all-time high in March, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Gas hit its highest national average price on March 11 at $ 4.33 a gallon, according to AAA.
“With rising prices, this is also causing more challenges for families, so it will be even harder for them to pay for food,” he said.
Another concern is that some pandemic-era programs aimed at helping more children gain access to food could end if they are not expanded, he said.
For example, a federal program that waived on-site monitoring of school meal programs will expire on June 30th. The program has allowed many more children than previously eligible to access free meals at school, Soldavini said.
“Some children who can now receive meals during the school year without having to pay for them, next year will not be able to do so if these exemptions are not extended,” he said.
Lack of nutrition can affect a child’s development, as well as their physical and mental health and academic success, he said.
“It’s important to be aware of this problem,” he said. “And there are programs that can help fix that, and it’s important to make sure that there are adequate resources and support for those programs.”