But the bigger threat that looms is the effect on childrens’ development. Over a period of time, foregoing nutritious meals risks impairing their cognitive functions, physical energy and state of mind, nutritionists say.
School meals have especially improved since the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act was enacted, as the meals have more vegetables, whole grains, and fruit. School meals typically have more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains than the meals of past generations. There have been decreases in childhood obesity. The meals often have more nutrients than packed lunches, or ones found at grocery stores and restaurants. The nutrients can hasten the children’s maturation and growth.
School meals have helped to reduce childhood hunger. Before the pandemic, 10.5 percent of households in the US were food insecure, and even higher among households with children (14.8 percent). Food insecurity can result in children with lower math and reading scores, increased risk in overall lower academic readiness, and poor physical and mental health. Estimates note that one in six children struggle with access to food, with this issue disproportionately impacting children of color. Feeding America has estimated that during 2021, one in five Black individuals may have experienced food insecurity compared to one in nine white individuals.
A nationwide UFM program would continue to address food access for our future leaders in a fairer, equitable way. We hope to see it continue.”