Food security refers to a person’s ability, at all times, to access and afford sufficient and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs for a productive and healthy life.
Food security becomes a concern when individuals and families face challenges to their ability to access or afford food, leading to hunger and malnutrition. This can happen when members of a family lose their job or economic subsistence, when they live in “food deserts” — neighborhoods that lack easy access to a grocery store or food supplies, or when other health problems prevent them from being able to get and maintain a healthy food supply within their household. In these instances, individuals may go hungry for periods of time or not be able to access food that meets their nutrition needs. We say they are food “insecure.”
Feeding America, the largest hunger-relief organization in the United States, estimates that 1 in 6 adults and 1 in 4 children are food insecure. Food insecurity impacts a person’s health and health care costs as well as their educational opportunities.
Students Experiencing Food Insecurity
Students experiencing food insecurity are more likely to:
- Skip breakfast, which is associated with decreased cognitive performance, attention, memory, visual processing, and problem-solving
- Have deficits in specific nutrients, which is associated with lower grades and higher rates of absenteeism and tardiness
- Experience malnutrition, which impacts physical growth, decreases resistance to disease, and limits children’s brain size and functioning
- Experience anxiety and depression
- Feel ashamed and isolated by the stigma associated with their lack of food
Schools are often seen as a hub of trusted connection within the community, and as food insecurity grows, they are increasingly becoming a hub for resources to address hunger. That’s because schools are a consistent touchpoint for many families, providing reliable information to the students who attend them and the staff and teachers who form the school community. Leveraging schools to improve access to food is a critical way to improve the health and well-being of children and people who support them.
Food insecurity also must be addressed as an issue of health equity. Children, communities of color, and single-parent households are disproportionately impacted by food insecurity. These dynamics are often a result of the long history of structural racism and classism in the United States. They must be overcome in order to ensure equitable opportunities for educational attainment and good health for all people.
Summer Nutrition Program
The Food Research & Action Center provides the information on Summer Nutrition Programs, which fills a nutrition gap during the summer by providing free meals and snacks to children who might otherwise go hungry. For support in implementing a Summer Nutrition program, visit FRAC’s Summer Nutrition Program resources.
Supplemental Nutrition for WIC
The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) provides federal grants to states for supplemental foods, health care referrals, and nutrition education for low-income pregnant, breastfeeding, and non-breastfeeding postpartum women, and to infants and children up to age five who are found to be at nutritional risk.