Hunger in America, Especially for Children, Has “Skyrocketed” During COVID-19, Data Shows

Originally published on The Intercept.

“What I see every day from the pandemic is amazingly-increased numbers of severely underweight children coming to our clinic, and parents really panicked about how they’re going to find enough food,” says Dr. Megan Sandel, an associate professor of pediatrics at Boston University School of Medicine.

The increase in hunger among children is particularly disturbing, for several reasons. Generally, explains Dottie Rosenbaum, another CBPP expert, “parents shield their children.” Sandel says that “parents are reporting to me sometimes at mealtime going back into the kitchen so the kids don’t notice that they are not eating themselves.” So when children are going hungry, there is little food for anyone.

The numbers represent a failure of the federal government’s food programs. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — i.e., food stamps — is available to Americans of all ages. But the smaller Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children — better known as WIC — and the National School Lunch Program are largely aimed specifically at preventing child hunger. Congress also created a temporary program called Pandemic-EBT in March to replace school lunches for children learning from home.

Unsurprisingly, going without regular food creates significant health problems for children. Studies have found that children in food insecure households suffer increased rates of anemia, asthma, long-term neurological damage, and many other ailments. “When you think about what the first few years of life are like,” Sandel points out, “that’s when you’re growing the brain you need for the rest of your life. This pandemic is really going to affect a generation of kids.” It is also a basic fact of school that hungry children cannot concentrate, and inevitably will fall behind their classmates.