What food insecurity means for a child’s development

What food insecurity means for a child’s development

Food insecurity – not knowing where your next meal is coming from – can affect everyone. From adults, children and families, food insecurity can place an added stressor on their daily lives.

It puts pressure on parents to find enough healthy food to feed their children. It affects a child’s education because their stomach is grumbling at school. Simply put, food insecurity impacts a person’s ability to lead an active, healthy life.

While food insecurity impacts all age ranges, there are 11 million children in the U.S. who do not have the food resources they need. And in Missouri and Illinois alone, food insecurity impacts nearly 40% of households, with over 701,000 children in search of their next meal.

Children are less likely to succeed in school.

Studies have found that when children are hungry, they have lower academic achievement because they are cognitively, emotionally and physically behind their food-secure peers. A No Kid Hungry study found that kindergartners from food-insecure homes entered school with lower math scores and learned less during the school year.

To help children be fed while at school, programs through local nonprofits aim to help children succeed. Recently, The St. Louis Area Foodbank, with support from Bayer, opened free school food markets in school districts, like Cahokia School District, Fairview Elementary School, and the Jennings Educational Training School.

These markets will provide a more “accessible source of food assistance to low-income students and their families,” according to the Foodbank’s site.

Creating a strong network of local nonprofits with programs that address specific needs within a broader issue, like food insecurity, is important to having a robust, well-rounded support system for the community. To create a strong regional foundation, United Way supports a safety net of nonprofits to assist with these basic needs issues.

Even though programs like Foodbank’s give children one less barrier to success in school and arm them with nutrition to be stronger mentally and physically, it’s just one piece of the puzzle.

Food insecurity impacts more than a child’s education – it can affect health.

Families and children who are food insecure are more likely to have common illnesses, like stomachaches, headaches and colds. Why? Because they most likely aren’t receiving the necessary nutrients to leave a healthy life.

Food insecurity can be worrying about where your next meal is coming from, but it can also entail worrying about the quality of your food. In houses with food insecurity, a decision is sometimes needed to be made: purchase nutrient-rich food and miss a bill or purchase less-expensive foods, which can lead to deficiencies in nutrients.

In a 2014 study, Feeding America found that 66% of people surveyed had to choose between food and utilities. Maya almost had to make this choice.

Maya, a mother, a student and a full-time employee, was diagnosed with a brain tumor and was scheduled for surgery with a seven-week recovery time. Maya worried about how this would impact her life: Would the surgery work? How would she afford to go without a paycheck? How would she be there for Mila, her 4-year-old daughter?

“I didn’t know how I was going to pay,” Maya said. “I had to stop working, and we still had to eat.”

When Mila’s school found out about Maya’s upcoming surgery, Cornerstone Center for Early Learning provided Mila with a full scholarship, including breakfast, lunch and a snack each day.

Without this support, Maya would have had to choose between her health and her child’s health. “If it wasn’t for United Way and Cornerstone, I wouldn’t have been able to successfully recover through my surgery because I would have been worried about how I was going to pay her tuition, having enough to pay the bills and keep a roof over our heads,” Maya said. “It was a stressor that I didn’t have to go through.”

Looking forward in the Greater St. Louis region


Alleviating food insecurity means helping everyone – children, adults and families. How can you help right now? Next time you’re at a grocery store, pick up a few extra cans of food (just check out our list for donations food banks need the most).

At United Way of Greater St. Louis, we look at how organizations are tools for change and the efforts they take to solve our region’s most pressing issues. Your support of United Way means helping be a part of the solution. Whether it’s through programs in local schools, nationwide programs, or events that promote information sharing and innovating, United Way is there. Together, we can help children have access to the healthy food they need to thrive.


  • Share this story with your family and friends. “Food insecurity impacts nearly 40% of households in Missouri and Illinois. What does this mean for our children?”
  • Find a volunteer opportunity at a food bank or pantry near you.
James Taylor
James Taylor