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Food Insecurity Impacts Brain Growth, Health and Emotional Stability

Too Small to Fail
By Too Small to Fail

Thoughtful toddler

Access to nutritious food rich in vitamins and minerals is an important component of healthy brain development and physical growth.

Access to nutritious food rich in vitamins and minerals is an important component of healthy brain development and physical growth. When children and families don’t have access to enough food to stay healthy and active, this is called “food insecurity”. There are approximately 16 million children in the United States who live in food-insecure families—and the majority of those families have at least one working adult.

Without proper nutrition, very young children may have trouble concentrating and learning new skills, and often experience emotional and behavioral problems that affect school performance and relationships. Research shows that food-insecure children have a harder time getting along with others and have trouble with memory. And these effects are felt long-term, too. According to Children’s Health Watch, teenagers who experienced food insecurity as very young children are more likely to repeat a grade and have lower test scores than their peers.

Food insecurity is not just about experiencing hunger, however. The stress of not knowing where the next meal is coming from—or regularly being told that there isn’t enough food—can impact a child’s sense of security, trigger fear, and lead to toxic stress, which causes chemical and physical changes in the brain.

Various communities are working to provide food-insecure families with regular meals, either through food banks or through other programs. And federal programs like the School Breakfast Program and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) can help make sure that children get nutritious meals to stay healthy. For more information, check out the resources below.

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VIDEO: Watch this single mother of two young girls explain how food insecurity has impacted her family, and why it’s so surprising. >>

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