In early 2018, National Life adopted a cause to help end childhood hunger in Vermont. This might seem an unlikely choice for a growing financial services company, but we think it makes perfect sense.
- Childhood hunger is a health issue. When children don’t have regular access to healthy food, their healthy development is impaired. This could result in short and long term health issues. “Children who went hungry at least once in their lives were 2½ times more likely to have poor overall health 10 to 15 years later, compared with those who never had to go without food,” says TIME1. Not having the proper nutrition as a child, negatively impacts your health as an adult, and ultimately limits your lifetime potential. Our future is our children; we want them to be healthy members of our communities.
- Childhood hunger is a workforce issue. Parents miss work when childrens’ immune systems are compromised because they experience hunger regularly and are then diagnosed with ongoing colds, diabetes or developmental delays.
- Childhood hunger is an academic issue. We’ve learned through remarkable educators who have been nominated for LifeChanger of the Year that too many children come to school not having eaten since the day before. So when all children have access to healthy meals at school:
- Their academic performance 2improves
- They’re don’t feel isolated
- Teachers don’t have to accommodate the students who are hungry with additional time or food they pay for themselves
- Food service staff isn’t in the position of making judgement calls
- Principals don’t become bill collectors for struggling families who could be their neighbors
- School administrators don’t have to wade through paperwork
After we understood the scope of the issue, many things became clear but one stood out: hunger is more pervasive than many of us realize. Part of the reason it’s more widespread is because of misinformation. It’s time to break down the myths and promote the reality.
Myth: People who need food assistance are looking for hand-outs.
Reality: The majority of parents who use resources like food shelves and free and reduced lunch at school work. Sometimes they work two jobs. “The people who come [to the food pantry] are hard workers. They are employed. They are the school bus drivers, the lab techs in doctor’s offices, receptionists, the janitors who clean the floor of your children’s school,” Linda Patterson, Executive Director of the Lorton Community Action Center said. “They just can’t make ends meet because some kind of crisis has hit them.”3
Myth: If a child is hungry, any food is good food.
Reality: Inexpensive food is often processed and high in sugar and calories. If this type of food is all a child has access to, the chances of him or her developing obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes increases, resulting in long-term health problems. 4
Myth: If a child is hungry, he or she will take advantage of free food through school.
Reality: Being a kid isn’t easy. Kids want to be like other kids. They want to be included and accepted. If they’re called out for being the kid who needs free food at school or a backpack filled with food on weekends, some simply won’t eat. Peer pressure is sometimes stronger than hunger pain.
As psychologist Robert Cialdini writes in his book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, “Following the crowd allows us to function in a complicated environment.” One of the most complicated environments is middle and high school.
These myths will continue to live on unless we change them. September is Hunger Action Month. Join us in our cause. Let’s work together to eliminate stigma and provide support to hungry kids so they don’t have to worry about where their next meal will come from.
If you want to help, check out these resources to make a difference:
1 TIME, Study: Effects of Childhood Hunger Last for Decades, 2010
2 “Too Hungry to Learn: Food Insecurity and School Readiness,” Children’s HealthWatch Research Brief, 2012.
3 “Hunger in America,” Natalie Diblasio, The Washington Post; August 20, 2014
4 Nutrition Tips for Kids; familydoctor.org 2019