‘No excuse for inaction’: Experts urge Congress to extend program providing free school replacement meals for kids

Originally published on CNBC.

Widespread food insecurity may have long-term consequences

“What I see every single day from the pandemic is really just 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, co-director of the Grow Clinic for Children at Boston Medical Center. Sandel says the clinic, which provides services to children that meet malnutrition guidelines set out by the World Health Organization, is seeing a 40% increase in its caseload.

Currently, over two-thirds of the families the clinic sees are reporting food insecurity. “It’s not unusual for families to report to me that sometimes at the end of the month they may have to stretch a dollar or try to figure out new ways to feed their kids,” Sandel says. “But what families are now reporting to me is that…sometimes [by the] the second or even third week of the month, they’ve run out of their food budget. They don’t have enough food.”

In fact, Sandel says parents are telling her that they are sometimes going back into the kitchen during meal times so their children don’t notice they aren’t eating themselves. “Parents will actually not eat as a way to free up enough food to feed their children,” Sandel says. “I see the fear in the parents’ eyes, and I see how kids are really struggling not to have access to that proper nutrition.”

Children’s struggle with hunger may have long-term consequences, Sandel says. If children are food insecure at age 1, 2 or 3, Sandel says research is showing that those same kids are having a more difficult time showing up to learn in kindergarten.

“This pandemic is really going to affect a generation of kids over the next two years in terms of whether or not they’re going to be able to stay on track and learn to read, to learn all the things that are really critical to our future workforce,” Sandel says.