At a time when many of us are thinking about traditional holiday foods, festive treats and trying not to eat too much, it is important to think about those for whom food insecurity is a regular battle.
In 2019, Feeding America estimated that food insecurity in the United States was around 11% overall and nearly 15% for children; rates for subsequent years during the pandemic are still being calculated, but they are already showing large increases.
In New Mexico, however, these rates are even worse. Overall, food insecurity is just over 14%, while the proportion in children is 22%. Nearly one in four children in our state does not have access to adequate and healthy nutrition.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently updated the definition of food insecurity to be labeled with respect to food safety. Food security is better if a family has adequate access to enough and a selection of quality foods, and low if they have insufficient access or experience hunger.
Food security can be a major source of stress for a family, but the impact of inadequate access to nutritious food has a greater impact on children. Children’s brains and bodies develop at rapid speeds and are disproportionately affected by the lack of proper nutrition.
Studies have shown that hunger and inadequate nutrition negatively affect a child’s ability to focus in school, affect self-esteem and may even impair overall health.
The National Scientific Council on the Developing Child states that “the structural foundation of cognitive function is laid in early childhood, creating the underlying circuit on which more complex processes are built. This foundation can be severely affected by food insecurity. Inadequate nutrition can permanently altering a child’s brain architecture and hampering their intellectual capacity, affecting the child’s learning, social interaction and productivity.Children who do not get what they need for a strong, healthy brain development in early childhood may never regain their lost potential for cognitive growth and any contribution to society. “
We simply cannot afford for our children to live without the nutrients they so richly deserve.
There are many individuals, organizations and federal programs working to stop hunger and fight for food security.
Albuquerque Public Schools has programs in place to provide free breakfast and lunch to qualified students. APS also has 106 schools that have been designated as Community Eligibility Provision schools, where all students can receive free breakfast and lunch. In addition, many schools offer an after-school meal program and send students home with weekend snack packages.
The city of Albuquerque has a dinner program that provides children with a hot meal that they can enjoy after school and during the winter holidays. These meals are automatically provided to registered participants in Community Center programs and are also available free of charge to all children ages one to eighteen. Please see the CABQ.gov website for more information on how to access this program.
There are also free meals distributed throughout the summer across the state; please see summerfoodnm.org for more information. Our state and federal governments have implemented programs to improve access to better nutrition through the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC). In addition, the child tax deduction has recently been extended and proved to be an important benefit for struggling families.
These government programs provide support based on a family’s income relative to the federal poverty level and benefit a family’s health and lower poverty rates.
Unfortunately, this level of support does not change in terms of cost of living. Therefore, a family’s income may be just over the limit to be eligible for support through a government program, but they live in an area with high cost of living.
Foods with lower nutritional values are often cheaper than higher quality foods, and many families have reported having to choose to buy medication over food.
Fortunately, there are also entities that support individuals and families with food resources who are not dependent on their reported income.
One of these amazing devices is the Roadrunner Food Bank of New Mexico. It is the state’s largest food bank, which not only supplies food, but collaborates with local organizations to provide health surveys, nutrition education, clothing assistance and more.
Please consider supporting state and federal programs aimed at improving food security. That gift can have a huge impact and help create a positive path for our children.
Melissa Mason is a General Practitioner at Journey Pediatrics in Albuquerque. Please send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.