Food Insecurity, COVID-19 and the Holidays
During the holidays we celebrate in a variety of ways: gathering as families and friends, exchanging gifts, and of course, with food – whether it’s a special dish that has become your family’s holiday tradition, or the act of creating seasonal foods like Christmas Cookies together.
But this year, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to upend our lives, there’s an increased likelihood that more children here and across the country aren’t just going without these holiday treats – they’re going without the healthy, nutritious foods they need to grow and develop. Food insecurity is a serious concern for millions of children and families across America, and if can affect everything from a child’s health and wellness to their education.
What is ‘Food Insecurity’?
Food insecurity is not hunger – through the two concepts are related. Hunger is a personal, physical sensation of discomfort. Food insecurity is the disruption of food intake or eating patters because of lack of money and other resources; and/or not having access to sufficient, safe, nutritious foods that can maintain a healthy and active lifestyle.
How can food insecurity affect children?
A study published in 2019, in “Pediatrics”, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, confirmed that food insecurity negatively affects children’s health in a variety of ways – both directly and indirectly. Food insecurity is associated with increased use of emergency department services, worse academic performance, poorer social outcomes, anxiety and depression – just to name a few pediatric health care issues tied to food insecurity by researchers. It’s also been linked to preventable chronic conditions like obesity, diabetes, heart disease and poor mental health.
How many children are food-insecure?
Nationally, the US Department of Agriculture estimates that 1 in 7 children (about 11.2 million) were living in food-insecure households as of 2018.
Feeding America, a U.S.-based non-profit that runs a nationwide network of food backs, estimates that more than 2,200 children in Franklin County, or 22.6 percent, were living in food insecure households in 2018.
How is COVID-19 impacting food insecurity?
The pandemic has exacerbated the issue, according to many advocates. Researchers at Northwestern University estimated in June that nearly 1 in 4 households nationwide have experienced food insecurity as a result of the economic crisis brought on by the pandemic.
What can I do to help?
There are a variety of ways you can get involved to help address this serious issue – from showing appreciation for your local food back and its volunteers and workers, to becoming a volunteer yourself. Here are some ideas for how you can help:
- Talk to your children about food insecurity – It’s never too early to start a conversation with your child about hunger, and there are resources available that can help provide age-appropriate tips for how they can make a difference.
- Donate to your local food back, or support your district’s backpack program – Many school districts have established programs to help provide at-risk students with food, so they don’t go hungry while at home. Most of these programs are designed to ensure children aren’t embarrassed or singled out while still receiving the important help they need. So reach out to your local district and see how you can help. They might need volunteers to pack food bags for distribution to students, or organize an annual food drive.
- Educate yourself – Some people don’t believe hunger or food insecurity is an issue in America, but the truth is that every county in the United States deals with food insecurity. By making sure you know the truth, you can help raise awareness of the problem.
- Thank food bank volunteers and workers for their work during the pandemic – Due to COVID-19, food banks are serving more people than ever. Send a note or celebrate their contributions on social media, to let them know you appreciate their work and know the challenge they are facing.