Children’s HealthWatch Founder and Principal Investigator, Dr. Deborah Frank spoke at a forum on issues facing children and teens in Massachusetts about the impact of food insecurity on children’s health.

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“Economic policies and economic conditions are written on the bodies and brains of babies,” said Dr. Deborah Frank, the founder and principal investigator of Children’s HealthWatch.

Food insecurity has become a persistent problem across the country, including in Massachusetts, where in some counties as many as 16 percent of children do not receive sufficient nutrition. One offshoot of a lack of access to healthy foods is the rise in obesity, driven by a basic need to stave off hunger, Frank said.

“Think about it. If you have a limited food budget but you need the biggest caloric bang for the smallest buck, then you don’t buy healthy food,” she said. “Unfortunately, the cheap foods that make adults fat starve children of essential nutrients.”

The health impact of food insecurity is vast, according to Frank. Poor nutrition is tied to major birth defects and low birth weight in infants, and numerous developmental delays in children — including short-term memory loss, attention and language deficits, and learning difficulties. Food insecurity is “catastrophic to brain function,” she noted. “The brain is most vulnerable to nutritional insults early in development; it needs constant energy.”