Hunger is not discriminatory, and it's everywhere. That's the message of a new study that shows children are struggling with hunger in every county and congressional district in America.
Map the Meal Gap: Child Food Insecurity 2011 from Feeding America and funded by ConAgra Foods Foundation, shows that rates of child food insecurity range from a low of 7% in Steele County, North Dakota, to highs of more than 50% in Zavala and Starr Counties in Texas.
Food insecurity is the household-level economic and social condition of limited or uncertain access to adequate food. Food insecurity rates among households with children are substantially higher than those found in the general population, reports Feeding America, which along with network members supplies food to more than 37 million Americans each year, including 14 million children and 3 million seniors.
Of course, while the problem is national in scope, some states and regions are suffering disproportionately.
There are 19 counties in the United States with more than 100,000 food insecure children each -- three of them are in New York City: Kings, Queens and Bronx counties. And in 314 counties, approximately 30% of children are struggling with food insecurity.
More than 30% of the counties in Arizona, Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama rank among the highest 10% for child food insecurity rates in the nation.
The implications are huge. "Hunger can fundamentally alter the trajectory of a child's life," says Vicki Escarra, president and CEO of Feeding America. "Research shows that children who experience hunger face significant stress and challenges that can have a lasting effect on their physical, cognitive and behavioral development."
"Children who come to school hungry are ill-prepared to learn and often have trouble focusing on their lessons. Raising healthy, well-educated children is vital to the prosperity of our nation," says Escarra.
The findings should be a wake up call. Says Escarra, "This research reinforces the fact that we cannot afford to balance the budget on the backs of our most vulnerable citizens. As Congress and the administration look for ways to reduce the federal deficit, we must protect the federal nutrition safety-net. Programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), WIC and child nutrition programs keep millions of families from going hungry. Low-income children and families make up the majority of SNAP enrollment, and they need our support now more than ever."