The Connection between Summer Hunger and Health

When I think back to the summers of my childhood, I fondly remember days spent outside playing with my friends. I remember going to the pool, summer camp, and the excitement I felt when I heard the sound of the ice cream truck. I also remember returning home for lunch and dinner to a home-cooked meal prepared by my mother. I am fortunate not to have memories of having to skip a meal, and more fortunate to have never skipped a meal for lack of food at home.

Children 1-3 years of age are particularly vulnerable to food insecurity.

The unsettling reality is that summer might not be all fun and carefree for an estimated 16,000 youth in our very own county. Parents are overwhelmed as they scramble to make childcare arrangements, because after all, they need to work in order to provide. Providing regular meals during the day can pose a challenge, and parents and children feel the absence of free and reduced-price meals provided during the school year. Another factor to consider is that food insecurity among adults and families tends to trickle down to children. In fact, children 1-3 years of age are particularly vulnerable because they likely consume a diet similar to that of their parents, and food scarcity may guide decisions that sacrifice quality for quantity.1 Subsequently, these first 3 years encompass ‘critical’ periods in which the negative neurological and developmental effects of nutritional deficiencies can be irreversible, potentially setting a child down a lower trajectory during growth and development.2

Looking at short-term effects, there is extensive research suggesting the negative influences on mood, behavior, and cognition that deficient or inadequate diets can have on children.3 In addition to negative behavior, health, and academic performance outcomes, poor nutrition can also lead to more hospitalization, conditions such as asthma and anemia, and more frequent absences at school.4

Ultimately, research tells us that food insecurity and poor nutrition can lead to both short and long-term consequences for growing and developing children that can range from simple misbehavior in the classroom, to slowed physical development, to irreversible neurological impairments. Research also tells us that it could all be prevented with access to adequate nutrition.1-4

Children in Grover Beach are excited about their Breakfast Bags.

This explains the rationale behind the SLO Food Bank Coalitions’s Children’s Programs such as Children’s Farmers Market and Summer Breakfast Bags. By increasing access to fresh, local fruits and vegetables along with shelf-stable nutritious breakfast food (many of which are vitamin fortified) we are joining the front lines in the fight to eliminate summer hunger and food insecurity. To supplement food resources, the Food Bank Coalition also provides Nutrition Education and Outreach in the form of lessons and activities, and children learn about the benefits of healthy eating and choosing fruits and vegetables over processed snacks and sweets.

Join us in our efforts to help children in SLO County eat well so they may grow and thrive. For more information about Child Food Insecurity, visit Feeding America’s page about Hunger.

1. Cusick, S. E., & Georgieff, M. K. (2016). The Role of Nutrition in Brain Development: The Golden Opportunity of the “First 1000 Days”. The Journal of pediatrics, 175, 16–21. doi:10.1016/j.jpeds.2016.05.013
2. Sensitive periods in development: structural characteristics and causal interpretations. Bornstein MHPsychol Bull. 1989 Mar; 105(2):179-97.
3. Nutrition and Students’ Academic Performance
4. Child Food Insecurity

– By Melissa Danehey, Nutrition Program Manager