For the 1 in 5 kids in Kentucky facing hunger, getting the energy they need to learn and grow can be a day-in, day-out challenge. Food insecurity can have a long-term impact on health, education, and Kentucky’s economy.
Poverty and Hunger
1 in 5 Kentucky kids face hunger.
Food insecurity refers to USDA’s measure of lack of access, at times, to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members and limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate foods. Food insecure children are those children living in households experiencing food insecurity.
Food insecure households are not necessarily food insecure all the time. Food insecurity may reflect a household’s need to make trade-offs between important basic needs, such as housing or medical bills, and purchasing nutritionally adequate foods.
Food insecurity is a problem that most often affects low-income families. In 2018, the poverty level for a household of four is an annual income of $24,600. Unfortunately, a significant number of Kentuckians fall below the poverty line. Our most recent data shows that over 685,000 people (15.5% of all Kentuckians) lived in poverty.
Of that number, 194,440 were children.
Feeding America’s research shows that there 8 counties in Kentucky where nearly 1 in 3 of children are food insecure.
Of course, this number is a minimum. Families making twice that much are still considered low-income by most experts, and likely struggle to make ends meet. In fact, 26% of food insecure children in Kentucky are likely ineligible for federal nutrition programs.
Hunger and Poor Health
Studies show that children living in food insecure homes are at greater risk for poor health, nutritional deficiencies and obesity, as well as developmental delays and poor academic achievement.
The intersection of hunger and health can be most accurately depicted as a cycle. First, a food-insecure household is forced to engage in coping strategies, often including the consumption of cheaper foods that are high in calories but low in nutritional value. Reliance on less healthy foods can lead to toxic stress, poor nutrition, and chronic diet-related diseases such as diabetes and obesity.
In turn, these chronic illnesses can worsen existing disabilities or other illnesses, or result in inability to work and increased healthcare costs, which further restrict the household food budget. Once a person or family enters the cycle, it can be increasingly difficult to escape it. See the Feeding America 2018 Map the Meal Gap for more information about the impact of hunger.
Meal Programs in Kentucky
One of the most effective way to help families and children is through nutrition programs. These are critical lifelines for families in need. In 2017, more than 68% of SNAP participants in Kentucky are families with children.
KY Kids Eat supports these important programs, though we focus our efforts on other federal food benefits programs that we know can make an enormous difference for hungry kids, such as the school breakfast program, the summer meals program and the afterschool meals program.
KY Kids Eat established the following long-term guideposts for these meal programs in Kentucky:
- Summer daily summer meals served is > 30% of target daily free or reduced-priced meals served during the school year.
- 70% of children who eat free or reduced-priced lunch also receive school breakfast.
- The total number of afterschool meals is > 20% of free or reduced-priced lunch meals.
There is significant work to do in Kentucky to reach these recommendations.
A landscape analysis conducted by Share Our Strength in June 2017 shows that Kentucky would need to serve 6.1 million additional summer meals, reach 21,000 more children during school breakfast, and serve 9.86 million additional meals after school to reach our coalition’s goals.
Low enrollment can be attributed to a number of factors, including lack of awareness of available programs and services, language or cultural barriers, and complicated enrollment procedures. KY Kids Eat believes the most effective way to reduce childhood hunger in the state is to improve the number of eligible families participating in these already-established programs and to encourage community members to get involved to address the issue.