WASHINGTON, D.C. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — One in eight U.S. households struggle with food insecurity, meaning that they may lack access to the quantity and quality of food needed for families to have a healthy lifestyle. This number is higher among low-income households. New research suggests a link between food insecurity in a young child’s life and the skills needed for school success.
At Centro Nia preschool in Washington, D.C., students fuel up on their favorites.
These preschoolers have access to balanced meals at school twice a day. But for some, regular, healthy meals are no guarantee.
Anna Johnson, PhD, a developmental psychologist at Georgetown University, told Ivanhoe, “About 20 percent of low-income young children are food insecure.”
Johnson studied food insecurity in a child’s first five years of life to determine how the lack of food is linked to cognitive, behavioral, and social skills as kids started kindergarten. Researchers used data on 3,700 low-income households. They interviewed parents and assessed children at nine months, then again at two, four, and five years old.
At the start of kindergarten, researchers measured reading and math skills, as well as levels of hyperactivity, and conduct. Professor Johnson said that the findings suggest the timing of food insecurity matters, starting as young as nine months and continuing.
“When children were two years old, if they experience food insecurity at a moderate or severe level relative to no food insecurity, they had lower cognitive scores and poor behavioral outcomes four years later in kindergarten,” explained Johnson.
Scientists say the findings suggest that food insecurity may negatively impact the developing brain, and that worries about providing food may affect parenting and the parent-child relationship. Johnson suggests that parents look for community safety nets: local food banks, schools, churches, and even libraries offer meals to those in need.
Professor Johnson said the findings also suggest to policymakers that more needs to be done to provide food for households with young children. She also says that food insecurity can and does happen to families of all economic backgrounds, due to job loss and other unforeseen events.
Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Supervising and Field Producer; Milvionne Chery, Assistant Producer; Roque Correa, Editor and Videographer.
Produced by Child Trends News Service in partnership with Ivanhoe Broadcast News and funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation.