In stark contrast to the general financial well-being of Connecticut residents, the state is in a hunger crisis that is negatively impacting children, primarily in urban areas.
The most recent data from Feeding America shows that in 2016, 11.6 percent of the total Connecticut population was living with food insecurity, and of that percentage, 15.6 percent were children.
According to the parameters set at the World Food Summit in 1996, “Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.”
While food security may be something most Connecticut residents take for granted, a significant portion of the Connecticut population wonders every day where their next meal will come from.
The impact of this issue is especially concerning when considering how it is affecting children. The 2018 report on Child Food Insecurity by Feeding America states that struggling with food insecurity puts children at a greater risk for “stunted development, anemia and asthma, oral health problems and hospitalization.”
The negative effects even affect academics. The same report states that food insecure children may begin “falling behind their food-secure peers both academically and socially.” It also states that food insecurity is “linked to lower reading and mathematics test scores, and [food insecure children] may be more likely to exhibit behavioral problems, including hyperactivity, aggression and anxiety.”
Though the total population in Connecticut living with food insecurity has come down from 13.1 percent since 2014, food insecurity is still a prevalent issue across the state, especially in urban areas, Feeding America reports. East Hartford, Waterbury, Bridgeport, New Haven and Hartford are some of the most food insecure areas in Connecticut, according to a joint study done in 2012 by the Zwick Center for Food and Resource Policy at the University of Connecticut and UConn’s Cooperative Extension System.
However, the same study shows that these locations also have a high ranking in terms of food availability. East Hartford, Bridgeport, Hartford, New Haven, and Waterbury are all top ten in the state for food accessibility, ranking at 1st, 3rd, 5th, 6th and 7th respectively. “Food access is certainly an important factor in whether or not families can obtain food,” said Marcia Pessolano of the state Department of Public Health’s Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity Program.
“However, food insecurity often reflects a lack of available financial resources for food within the household. Food insecurity is complex; poverty and food insecurity in the United States are closely related, but are not mutually exclusive. Unemployment and underemployment, lack of affordable housing, high medical costs and other competing financial priorities may leave families to choose between purchasing food and paying for other essential needs.”
Shannon Yearwood, the executive director of End Hunger Connecticut!, said that a lack of time to apply for assistance could also be one of reasons why food insecure people may not be able to access the resources they need. Another reason she cites is the stigma surrounding food insecurity that she says has grown recently, as well as the possibility that the state’s immigrant population may be fearful of seeking assistance.
End Hunger is advocating and working with legislators and schools to provide Connecticut children with the resources they need to become more food secure.
According to the End Hunger Nutrition and Food Insecurity Profile from 2015, many students are taking advantage of the meal programs available to them. The data shows that a combined 115,518 children were taking advantage of the School Breakfast Program and Summer Meal Programs in addition to showing an 88.2 percent increase in participation in the At-Risk Afterschool Meals/Supper Program.
Through programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the Commodity Supplemental Food Program, the Women, Infants, and Children Program and the Child Nutrition Programs, DPH and organizations like End Hunger are working to lessen the severity of the issue of food insecurity in the state.
Yearwood said the most important thing about the work is that “we don’t get discouraged and we help folks have not just food, but also hope.”
Sabine Joseph is a senior at the Miami Lakes Educational Center in Miami Lakes, Florida.