Summer can be an anxiety-provoking time for 16 million kids across the U.S. who are struggling with hunger at home. The end of every school year means lost access to free and reduced-price lunches that provide regular nutrition to growing bodies. For a child who does not receive regular, healthy meals at home, the summer months may feel extra long.
The result of summer hunger, especially over many years, can be devastating to children’s physical, cognitive and social-emotional development. When kids are malnourished or don’t know where their next meal is coming from, they cannot focus, their academic performance may suffer and they are more likely to act out against peers and adults.
Here are a few common signs that a child may struggle with hunger:
- They ask about food every day and they’re not picky.
If a child seems fixated on meals or expresses consistent interest in when the next snack is being served, she may be struggling with hunger at home. While children are often hungry at regular eating times or following activities, pay attention to children who arrive at camp hungry and are rarely selective about what they eat.
- They suddenly lose or gain weight.
Not all children who are hungry are thin. The result of lost access to regular nutrition can sometimes mean families are relying on low-price, low-quality processed food, junk food, or sugary snacks and beverages. If a child appears to be gaining weight in summer, a calorie-rich, nutrient-void diet may be to blame.
- They hoard snacks and food.
If food is provided at your summer camp, pay attention to children who seem to take more than a fair share, ask for extra portions to take home or sneak snacks into their pockets. Children who do not know where their next meal is coming from may exhibit these types of hoarding food behaviors as a survival strategy.
- They are bullying or behaving badly.
‘Hanger’ pains are real. As adults, we know that our concentration and moods are impacted by our hunger. Yet adults (more likely) have the coping skills and resources to manage appropriately. For kids, who are not yet fully developed, the inability to access food regularly can cause behavior issues that affect their camp peers and counselors. If a child is acting aggressively, picking fights with other children (especially over food or money) or seems distracted, he may be struggling with hunger. Similarly, a child who lacks energy throughout the day may also be going to bed on an empty stomach.
- Their teeth are decaying.
A diet filled with sugar is the leading cause of tooth decay in young children. Lack of calcium is also a contributing factor. When children are not receiving proper nutrition at home and/or not receiving dental care, the warning signs can be seen on their smiling faces. Early intervention can help prevent lifelong complications.
Looking for more tips and support?
To see how food insecurity is affecting your state, use the Food Research & Action Center’s online data tool. To access more resources or learn how your summer camp can help join the fight against child hunger, chat with us on Twitter using #TheYFeedsKids.