The Scoop on Food

You Won't Believe How Many Children Go Hungry In America

This is a guest post by Parents staffer Brooke Bunce

Kids' empty lunchbox

Think back to the last time your child bellowed those oft-heard words, "I'm HUN-gry!" and how you reacted. You probably went to your fridge and reached for a piece of fresh fruit, baby carrots, or a cheese stick, or plunged your hand into the depths of the cupboard to find a snack (hey, we all do it!) to tide her over until the next meal.

But for some kids, "I'm hungry" isn't just a tiny daily annoyance, but a persistent part of every hour of every day. The sad truth of the matter is that more kids go hungry in the United States than we would like to believe.

According to a 2012 United States Department of Agriculture report, 15.8 million children under 18 in the U.S. "lived in households where they are unable to consistently access enough nutritious food necessary to a healthy life." Not having access to food is detrimental to any person, but children are especially vulnerable. Hunger affects children's academic performance, their social well-being, and their overall health, among other things.

A recent comprehensive study about the state of hunger in this country was released by the hunger relief charity Feeding America, which revealed that 1 in 7 Americans turn to the Feeding America network for nutritional assistance. That's over 46 million Americans, and 12 million children—an alarming number that continues to grow.

Many families struggling to feed themselves must make difficult financial decisions. Feeding America reports that 34 percent of the people it serves must choose between spending money on food or transportation. Twenty-seven percent of those surveyed had to choose between paying for housing for a month or paying to feed their family. When faced with such tough decisions, it's easy to see why food banks continue to be strapped for donations.

The award-winning documentary A Place At The Table examines childhood hunger on a more personal scale. Through the stories of three different Americans, one mother and two children, different aspects and effects of hunger are hashed out. One of the major sticking points is that unhealthy food—which struggling families turn to first for its convenience and affordability—is taking its toll on the health of children. The film wagers that health issues caused by the lack of nutritious foods costs the U.S. $167 billion per year, a devastating amount of money that rises each year as childhood obesity rates shoot through the roof.

The reasons for hunger are complex and varied, but finding a solution doesn't have to be. Small steps can make huge impacts. For one, Walmart has launched a new campaign committed to hunger relief in the U.S. The superchain is teaming up with General Mills, Unilever, Hormel, ConAgra Foods, PepsiCo/Quaker and Kellogg Company to help fund local food banks across the country. Visit through October 5 to vote for your local food bank or participating assistance agency. Fifty winning banks will receive grants for $60,000 each. You can also find out more about volunteering at a food bank near you during the approaching holiday season.

Now when your child complains of those routine hunger pangs, know that you can help them and the rest of the children across America searching for their next meal.

How to Eat Healthy: Raising Nutrition-Smart Kids

Photo of lunchbox via Shutterstock.