According to the USDA, 17.4 million households, or 14 percent of all U.S. households, were food insecure at some point in 2014. This means that during at least some point in the year they lacked access to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members. Additionally, more than one-fifth of U.S. children live in a family that experiences food insecurity and lacks consistent access to adequate nutrition.
Although food insecurity is harmful to any individual, it can be particularly devastating for children due to their unique physical and development needs. In early childhood, deficiencies of key micronutrients during the vulnerable period of development from birth to 24 months can lead to delays in attention and motor development, poor short-term memory, and lower IQ scores. School-aged children can face immediate and lifelong educational, health, and behavioral problems as a result of hunger.
Programs that promote breastfeeding and ensure access to nutritious foods, such as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program, the school meals and summer feeding programs, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and child care food assistance, improve health outcomes, school achievement, and workforce competitiveness. These programs help lift families out of poverty.
Promoting Food Security for All Children and Toolkit for Pediatricians
In October of 2015, AAP released the policy statement, "Promoting Food Security for all Children". Within the statement, the AAP is recommending for the first time that pediatricians screen all children for food insecurity. The policy statement identifies the short and long-term adverse health impacts of food insecurity, and recommends that pediatricians become familiar with and refer families to needed community resources. Importantly, the statement renews the call for protecting and increasing access to and funding for SNAP, WIC, school nutrition programs, and summer feeding programs at the federal, state and local levels.
For more information about the policy statement please see this press release and blog post by one of the lead authors of the statement, Dr. Sarah Jane Schwarzenberg.
In order to assist pediatricians in meeting the recommendations of the policy statement, AAP has partnered with the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC) to provide a variety of tools and resources that will help pediatricians and their practice teams do the following:
- Screen for food insecurity in practice;
- Connect families with food and nutrition resources in the community; and
- Support national and local policies that increase access to adequate healthy food for all children and their families.
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program
Currently, an estimated 47 million Americans are enrolled in the United States Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as Food Stamps). SNAP provides low-income families with an average of $133 of monthly resources to purchase food. SNAP is the largest domestic U.S. hunger safety net. Nearly half of the program participants are children.
SNAP is reauthorized within the Farm Bill, legislation that renews federal agriculture, trade, commodities and nutrition programs. The 2014 Farm Bill required over three years of debate in both chambers of Congress that ended with $8.6 billion in cuts to SNAP over the next 10 years. The bill protected SNAP-Ed nutrition education and promotion of physical activity and it required the development of dietary guidelines for pregnant women and children from birth to age two for inclusion in the 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, an effort strongly supported by the AAP.
As conversations about the next Farm Bill begin in 2017, the AAP will be advocating for improving the current benefits of the SNAP program. At present, SNAP benefits, based on the Thrifty Food Plan, are not enough to provide families with the resources to obtain an adequate, healthy diet throughout the month. The AAP will also advocate for reducing barriers to enrollment in SNAP which includes improving linkages between Medicaid and SNAP.
AAP is strongly opposed to any changes to SNAP in the form of block grants and program "streamlining" or "consolidation", which is designed to restrict or cap eligibility and reduce participation and access. Eligibility rules and funding structures of the current federal nutrition programs (such as SNAP), which make benefits available to children in almost all families with little income and few resources, are critical to their success.
AAP will continue highlighting the importance of SNAP as part of its ongoing advocacy efforts aimed at supporting and enacting policies that reduce poverty and address its detrimental effects on child health and development.