Positive Parenting

Positive Parenting: Food insecurity

VIDEO: Positive Parenting Food...

At Cetronia Preschool in Washington D.C., students fuel up on their favorites.

These preschoolers have access to balanced meals at school twice a day. But for some, regular healthy meals are no guarantee.

"So about 20 percent of low-income young children are food insecure," said Anna Johnson, Ph.D. Developmental Psychologist at Georgetown University.

Dr. Johnson studied food insecurity in a child's first five years of life to determine how the lack of food is linked to cognitive, behavioral, and social skills as kids started kindergarten. Researchers used data on 3,700 low-income households. They interviewed parents and assessed children at nine months, then again at two, four, and five years old. 

At the start of kindergarten, researchers measured reading and math skills as well as levels of hyperactivity and conduct. 

Dr. Johnson says the findings suggest the timing of food insecurity matters, starting as young as nine months and continuing. 

"When children were two years old, if they experience food insecurity at a moderate or severe level relative to no food insecurity, they had lower cognitive scores and poor behavioral outcomes four years later in kindergarten," she said. 

Scientists say the findings suggest food insecurity may negatively impact the developing brain and worries about providing food may affect parenting and the parent-child relationship. Dr. Johnson suggests parents look for community safety nets: local food banks, schools, churches, and even libraries that offer meals to those in need. 

The findings also suggest to policy makers that more needs to be done to provide food for households with young children. Dr. Johnson says food insecurity can and does happen to families of all economic backgrounds due to job loss and other unforeseen events.


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