Thanksgiving and Christmas signals a time for celebration, but for the 48 million Americans who struggle year-round with hunger, this time of year can bring added stress.
Food Insecurity and Why It Matters
Food insecurity is when someone lacks consistent access to the affordable, nutritious food they need to live a healthy, active lifestyle. Nationally, 16 million children don’t have regular access to meals. In Utah, an estimated 12 percent of households — about 338,000 people — are food insecure.
This impacts everyone, but most especially children. Negative outcomes include poorer health, impaired ability to concentrate and perform in school, and increased behavioral problems. Additionally, food insecurity is linked to poorer diet quality and variety — and to obesity.
How do you identify people who suffer from food insecurity?
- Look at their physical appearance. Keep in mind that low body weight isn’t necessarily a tell-tale sign, as food insecurity is often linked to obesity. However, you can look for other physical indicators of nutrient deficiencies like swollen or puffy skin, chronically cracked lips, or chronically dry, itchy eyes.
- Observe their behaviors and listen to conversations. Children who are chronically hungry are likely to be anxious about when their next meal is. They may frequently complain of excessive hunger, go to school early to get breakfast, or rush to the front of the lunch line. Children may eat quickly and completely, refusing to leave food on their plates. You may notice a child who lingers around for more food or frequently asks for seconds.
- Ask questions. If you’re concerned a child isn’t getting enough to eat, ask them about what foods they eat at home. What did they eat for dinner last night or breakfast this morning? Do they ever worry they won’t have enough to eat, or has their family run out of food?
How Can You Help?
Multiple government programs are in place to help, specifically the National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program. Unfortunately, these programs are underutilized in Utah, since only about a third of eligible children participate in the school breakfast program. You can help spread the word to increase participation.
Donate! You can donate food, money, and time to the Utah Food Bank. They have programs like the Backpack Program and Kid’s Café that help reduce hunger in children. They also have Food Box programs to help seniors who suffer from chronic hunger.
Anytime is a great time to give back and help families in need.