To address child hunger, hunger-relief organizations like the San Diego Food Bank and San Diego Hunger Coalition create programs like the Food 4 Kids Backpack Program and advocate for policies that will help children in need have better access to nutritious food more often.

Hunger Awareness Month:
The Harmful Effects of Child Hunger and Solutions for Change

by Nicky Riordan, Nonprofit Services Manager

September is Hunger Awareness Month and all across the country, hunger-relief organizations and their supporters are working to provide information to their communities about the long-term effects food insecurity can have on our children, seniors, and families.

One in five children in San Diego County are food insecure, and studies are clear that this results in myriad detrimental outcomes for those children and their futures. According to the Hospital Association of San Diego & Imperial Counties, these outcomes include delayed physical and cognitive development, behavioral problems, and lower academic achievement and increased likelihood of needing to repeat a grade. Research has shown that physical sensations of hunger make it difficult for children to concentrate and learn, which means that food-insecure children often fall behind their peers in school. This increases the likelihood that the cycle of poverty will continue into adulthood, and for generations to come.

There are sensible and attainable solutions to solve this problem. Universal breakfast programs that serve children in class promote a healthy start to the day without stigmatizing the children who did not have breakfast at home. After-school meals through the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) can be provided by community partners in safe places like recreation centers and affordable housing complexes to ensure that low-income children have adequate energy for homework and active play – and that they won’t go to bed hungry. The addition of increased food stamps benefits to families during the summer ward off the challenges of getting children to various summer meal sites, which are far underutilized.

The San Diego Hunger Coalition and the Jacobs & Cushman San Diego Food Bank work in partnership to address these challenges throughout the year. The Food Bank provides weekend backpacks of food to children at schools across the county during the school year as part of our Food 4 Kids Backpack Program, and SDHC promotes and advocates for effective policy changes that focus on the systemic issues with existing federal meal programs.

Childhood food insecurity exists in all of our communities, and it is imperative that we do everything we can to solve this problem and give our children the opportunity they deserve to succeed. You can do this by donating to help fund the Food 4 Kids Backpack Program at the San Diego Food Bank, or working with the Hunger Coalition to advocate for proactive policies at the state and federal level.

For more information about San Diego Hunger Awareness Month, visit www.sandiegofoodbank.org/hunger or learn how to become a Hunger Free advocate through the San Diego Hunger Coalition by clicking here.

Hunger Awareness Month: How Hunger and Health are Intertwined

by Nicky Riordan, Nonprofit Services Manager

September is Hunger Awareness Month and all across the country, hunger-relief organizations and their supporters are working to provide information to their communities about the long term effects food insecurity can have on our children, seniors, and families. Nearly 1 in 6 people in San Diego County are food insecure and cannot sustain an active, healthy life. To put this into context, the percentage of San Diegans experiencing food insecurity is larger than those populations affected by the region’s top three health concerns: cancer, coronary heart disease and diabetes.

One emerging body of research is focusing on the connection between hunger and health. According to a 2016 needs assessment conducted through the Hospital Association of San Diego and Imperial Counties, food insecurity was cited most often as a social determinant of health and lack of access to healthy food was found to be closely tied to diabetes and obesity in the individuals surveyed. Moreover, recent research through the University of California San Francisco found that negative health outcomes for the food insecure population may be related to the myriad coping strategies that individuals must employ to avoid hunger. These include: consuming more low-cost and unhealthy but highly-filling foods, reducing variety, and trading off other expenses for food, like important medication. Long term use of these coping strategies not only exposes food insecure individuals to risk of chronic disease, but also to poor disease management, which forces them to utilize the health care system more often.

The good news is that this conversation is now reaching the highest levels of decision making in both health care and hunger relief fields, and important actions are being taken to reverse the trend. Hospitals and health care associations are beginning to screen patients for food insecurity, and they are working with food banks to provide food assistance to patients who have been identified as food insecure through this process. There are also efforts underway to ensure that patients who qualify for MediCal are connected to CalFresh (food stamps) as well, closing the loop on cold referrals for services that a patient most likely will qualify for. CalFresh allows families to purchase healthy food at grocery stores and farmers markets to supplement what their income allows. At some farmers markets, CalFresh recipients can even double their money on local, fresh fruits and vegetables.

According to the San Diego Hunger Coalition, evidence is beginning to emerge that such efforts reduce inpatient use of services, hospital visits, readmission rates, and emergency department use. Additionally, they are finding that the healthcare setting is an ideal place to connect patients to other resources that will impact their health outcomes; local efforts to provide on-site food assistance has successfully engaged patients in utilizing food resources, and individuals are more likely to sign up for food assistance when that becomes a health goal as part of the patient care visit.

For more information about San Diego Hunger Awareness Month, visit www.sandiegofoodbank.org/hunger or learn how to become a Hunger Free advocate through the San Diego Hunger Coalition by clicking here.