Part 2: 5 long-term effects of food insecurity on kids
In part 1 of our series, we looked at the short-term effects of food insecurity on kids. Unfortunately, hunger can also have long-term effects on the physical and mental state of children, which can impact the rest of their lives. In part 2, we will look at five primary effects of long-term food insecurity.
1. Delayed physical development can occur when kids lack the essential nutrition they need to grow their brain and body. This leads to delayed motor, cognitive, and behavioral development, which can then leave them behind in learning, sports, and many other aspects of social life. Malnourishment can also mean an underperforming immune system, vitamin or iron deficiencies, “diminished intellectual performance, low work capacity, and increased risk of delivery complications.” (American Psychological Association on child hunger)
2. Delayed mental development is often a result of continued stress that comes with prolonged hunger. High levels of childhood stress impact behavioral and emotional development, can have long-term impacts on the person’s stress management system, and strain the body from being in a constant state of “fight or flight.” Additionally, the internalized shame that can come from living with food insecurity or poverty can have detrimental effects well past childhood.
3. Reduced capacity for learning when children do not have the mental bandwidth or physical energy to devote to learning because they are so distracted by hunger. They can be at a disadvantage as they get older, and fall further behind in school. Even from a young age, food insecurity can impact whether or not a child goes to college, the types of jobs they get as adults, and their lifetime earning potential. As a result of these lasting effects, the cycle of poverty and food insecurity is intergenerational.
4. Inability to regulate hunger for themselves, since they never learned how to do it growing up. When a child is hungry and they can’t get food, their body learns that eating is an external, unpredictable cue, and decreases their ability to regulate hunger internally. This can lead to ongoing unhealthy relationships with food and hunger. Into adulthood, these children are less able to recognize their own internal signals for hunger, fullness, and what food their bodies need.
5. Lower birth weight is a negative effect of food insecurity, even before the child is born. When pregnant women lack access to food, their children are often born with a lower birth weight; this can lead to stunted growth and slower cognitive and physical development from day one (The nature of child malnutrition and its long-term implications, Food and Nutrition Bulletin). Reducing food insecurity for people who are pregnant and nursing can also significantly impact the life of their child.
The Snack Sack was founded to provide kids the food they need to be able to concentrate on the things that can positively impact their life, like family and school. Donate now.
Brenna Kutch (they/them or she/her) is a self-described bureaucratic activist - creating structural change through policy and organizational inclusion. They spend their time writing strongly worded opinions, joining social justice and human rights causes, challenging binaries, and over-committing. Their professional career is in public education and international development with a focus on HR and Diversity/Equity/Inclusion, and they currently work at USAID's Office of Food for Peace. You can get in touch at www.brennakutch.com