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Child Nutrition Programs
Child hunger is a significant problem in the United States.
More than one in five kids — 16.2 million children — struggle against hunger in the United States. While hunger affects people of all ages, it is particularly devastating for children. Even short-term episodes of hunger can cause lasting damage to child development, putting children at risk for a range of cognitive, behavioral, emotional, and physical problems.
Children who are hungry can:
- Exhibit decreased attention and lower test scores;
- Display aggression, tardiness, and absenteeism; and,
- Become sick or hospitalized.
We have the tools to end child hunger in our country.
Strengthening child nutrition programs provides an immediate and direct way to reduce child hunger and improve health and educational outcomes. Programs such as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), school breakfast and lunch programs, and preschool, summer, and after-school meal programs are vital in providing children the food they need for healthy development.
Unfortunately, child nutrition programs do not reach every child who needs food.
Of the 20.6 million schoolchildren receiving food assistance at lunch, 11 million do not receive breakfast assistance and 18 million do not receive summer meals. Many eligible children lack access to programs or face other barriers to participation, whether it is because a program is not offered in their community, transportation is limited, or eligibility provisions lack coordination with other agencies. Child nutrition programs could do far more to reduce hunger simply by reaching more kids.
- There are 99,000 schools operating the National School Lunch Program, but only 87,600 operating the School Breakfast Program.
- Only 35,500 Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) sites operate nationwide.
- Of the 20.6 million children receiving free or reduced-price lunches each school day, only 46 percent receive breakfast and just 10 percent receive summer food.
Congress must create a Circle of Protection around child nutrition programs.
In late 2010, Congress passed child nutrition legislation giving children greater access to these critical programs and increasing participation among eligible low-income children. The bill included a $4.5 billion investment in preventing child hunger over 10 years and expanded the number of school breakfast and summer feeding sites.
Now, however, these and all our nation's nutrition programs are at risk as Congress seeks to reduce the deficit. You can influence this process by urging your members of Congress to create a circle of protection around child nutrition programs.