Child Food Insecurity

It is wrong to think that child food insecurity, malnourishment, and other food issues are only present in “third-world” countries because in reality, they occur worldwide (“Woodhouse”). They are especially prevalent in the United States (“Morrissey”), which is considered to be one of the most advanced and affluent countries in the world. Children from low-income families feel the greatest effects of food insecurity in the United States because they have minimal access to fresh foods, which is caused by the high price of fresh, healthy foods, foodbanks’ inability to provide high-quality produce, and the easy access of high-calorie and low-nutrient foods in schools.

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This inaccessibility further damages children’s health because it steers them toward consumption of low-nutrient, high-calorie foods, which causes elevated levels of obesity and leads to further health problems.

The elevated price of healthy, fresh foods makes it inaccessible to low-income families. These families have very limited food budgets, and thus have to make choices on what to eat based on price rather than nutritional value (“Morrissey”), especially in times of crisis when money is often taken out of a family’s food budget in order to pay for housing or medical expenses. These people can control how much they spend, but they have no control over the pricing of their food because the entire food industry is controlled by the monopolizing “Big Food” industry (“Woodhouse”). The industry is comprised of “Big Ag”, which controls agricultural production of produce and grains, “Big Meat”, which controls livestock and meat production, packaging companies, which control processed foods, and supermarkets, which are responsible for selling the products (“Woodhouse”). The entire industry, but primarily the super markets, controls the pricing of the products they sell (“Woodhouse”), and with their ultimate goal being to make a profit, they are likely to set high prices for certain products, especially those that are costly to make. This has a detrimental effect on low-income families. In recent years, snack foods, which are often high in calories and energy but low in nutrients, and sugary drinks, such as sodas, lemonade, and juice have decreased in price (“Morrissey”). At the same time, nutrient-balanced restaurant meals and fruits and vegetables have gone up in price (“Morrissey”). Cost is such a critical factor in determining the foods consumed by low-income families that the high price of high-quality produce causes them to be unable to have access to it. They are forced to bypass the healthy and nutritious fruits and vegetables and must instead turn to sugary drinks and high-calorie snacks (“Morrissey”). This primarily affects the children of the family because their parents are unable to afford fresh produce which causes them to eat the lower-priced high-calorie foods, which is destructive to their overall health by increasing the likelihood of obesity (“Morrissey”).

Many low-income families turn to foodbanks in the hopes of receiving fresh produce that they would otherwise not be able to purchase because of their high prices. In reality though, foodbanks are unable to fully provide these products to the people who rely on their services. The Westside Foodbank in Santa Monica is doing their best to provide their clients with as much fresh produce as they can with the goal of giving families 50% fresh foods. They have developed the Farm to Family program in which rejected produce is given to low-income families for consumption. The foodbank takes cosmetically undesirable produce that is unable to be sold commercially and would instead be used as compost or wasted, and gives it to families in need so they have access to some fresh produce. For example, dozens of small green apples were dropped off because they were unable to be sold in market, and the foodbank gladly accepted them so they could distribute them to their clients and provide them with fresh fruit. The foodbank also uses funds to purchase other fresh fruits and vegetables in addition to those provided by donations. One of the most common items purchased is iceberg lettuce, which serves as a great vegetable source for families. Though the foodbank strives to provide low-income households with an abundance of fresh foods, they only succeed in part. It is very difficult to acquire fresh produce so they rely heavily on the donations that come through the Farm to Table program, like the small apples, and the ability to buy cheaper produce in bulk, like the iceberg lettuce. Though the apples do provide a source of fresh fruit, they are the runt of the batch and therefore are not the top-quality fresh fruit that more affluent families have access to. And though the iceberg lettuce provides access to a fresh vegetable, it has a lower nutritional value than some other types of lettuce, meaning that low-income families still do not have access to the high-nutrient foods that more affluent families have access to. In addition to providing lower quality produce to their families, the Westside Foodbank relies heavily on canned products, which are usually higher in calories and lower in nutritional value. This is due to the fact that canned foods are much easier to acquire, and also are a solution to some of the space and refrigeration issues the foodbank deals with. They also last longer than fresh produce, so this helps the foodbank generate less waste and provide long-lasting and more versatile ingredients to their families. Since foodbanks are only able to supply low-quality fresh produce and canned foods, low-income families that rely on these services are only able to feed their children these low-quality items, which has a negative effect on the health of their children.

Schools further feed into the problem of child food insecurity by providing easy access to high-calorie and low-nutrient food choices. Sugary and fattening junk food is readily available at American schools (“Greves, 1”) and is often more accessible than the healthier, more nutritious options, and the government is partially to blame for this. They put very strict regulations on the foods that can be provided by programs such as the National School Lunch and Healthy Breakfast programs, which are trying to provide a source of fresh and nutritious foods to low-income students at low-income schools (“Greves, 1”). There are hardly any government regulations on the sale of very high-calorie and low-nutrient “competitive foods” in schools (“Greves, 1”). Schools, especially low-income schools, have a much harder time providing fresh, wholesome foods because of all of the rules and regulations, so they resort to supplying the bad-quality competitive foods because it is so much easier (“Greves, 1”). Salad bars are implemented in some schools in order to provide students access to fresh fruits and vegetables, and studies show that 98.6% of the students who have access take advantage of it and serve themselves fruits and vegetables (“Adams”). Though salad bars are shown to have a positive effect on the consumption of fruits and vegetables among students (“Adams”), because of the high cost, it is much harder to implement in public schools where the student population consists of a high percentage of children from low-income families. It is also much harder for these low-income schools to work around the required government regulations that come with supplying this service (“Greves, 1”). The challenges that come with providing fresh foods force schools to supply non-nutritious foods, thereby forcing students to consume them. Only being able to consume high-calorie and low-nutrient foods at school further leads to the development of severe health problems among children.

Though child food insecurity is a severe problem in the United States, it occurs globally. In Santos, Brazil, for example, it is extremely difficult for women from low-income families to provide their children with quality meals (“de Morais Sato”). They must do extensive research on the cost of ingredients in order to determine what to buy, and often make substitutions in cooking to maximize the ingredients (“de Morais Sato”). For example, these women resort to purchasing fattier meat products rather than fresh fruits because of the dramatic price difference (“de Morais Sato”). They also add water to certain dishes, for example beans (“de Morais Sato”), which lowers overall the nutritional value of the dish. These financial constraints force women to feed their children high-calorie and low-nutrient foods which causes elevated levels of obesity among both the children and the women themselves (“de Morais Sato”).

Childhood obesity is rampant worldwide (). It is causing more people to die of diabetes, heart diseases, cancers, and strokes (), and is also lowering the life expectancies of children (). Childhood obesity is caused by the inaccessibility to fresh foods because of price, insufficient foodbank programs, and government regulations in schools, and to help combat this, there are programs in place to try and fix these issues (“Greves, 2”). For example, the National School Lunch Program is initiating the “Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools Program”, which is working to provide funds to schools so they are able to build salad bars in their dining facilities and provide fruits and vegetables for students (). A Wellness Policy that would set standards for the nutrition levels of campus food and physical education programs was also suggested (“Greves, 2”). Children are the future, but they need to be guaranteed that future by gaining more access to fresh foods which ultimately will improve their overall health.

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