The unthinkable or reality? Both. New Mexico has the second- highest rate of child hunger of any state in the country, with one in four suffering from persistent hunger. According to a comprehensive national study (www.feedingamerica.org), 332,610 (one in six) people are struggling with hunger in New Mexico—and 124,980 of them are children. In Taos, Torrance and Guadalupe counties, more than 30 percent of children don’t have enough food on the table. The better news: there is much you can do.
The family context of child hunger is essential to understand. Hunger does not only affect the homeless. Of the food insecure:
· 89 percent have permanent housing, such as a home or an apartment
· 89 percent of hungry households have an annual income of less than $20,000; and
· 53 percent of hungry households include at least one person who has worked in the past 12 months.
Malnutrition affects not only the immediate health of children, but also their future health and ability to become engaged citizens, productive workers and community participants later in life. Yes, economy and health are inextricably linked.
Hunger and poverty go hand-in-hand in New Mexico. Families are faced with difficult choices, affecting overall well-being:
· 61 percent of households choose between food and utilities
· 66 percent of households choose between food and transportation
· 59 percent of households choose between food and medical care; and
· 48 percent of households choose between food and housing.
The ripple effect caused by food insecurity profoundly contributes to the low socio-economic indicators of New Mexico. It’s time to look at and address the root causes.
The connection between diet and learning ability is profound, for child hunger affects cognitive development. When a child doesn’t receive enough of the nutrients the body requires for optimum development and metabolic function, there are lifelong consequences.
Nutrition during pregnancy and in the first years of a child’s life provides the essential building blocks for brain development, healthy growth and a strong immune system. Undernourished children are more susceptible to infections and illnesses. The foundations of lifelong health, including a person’s predisposition to obesity and certain chronic diseases—such as, heart disease, diabetes and certain types of cancers later in life—are set in childhood.
The 1,000-day window between a woman’s pregnancy and her child’s second birthday represent a unique window of opportunity to build healthier and more prosperous futures. Adequate nutrition during this period builds a child’s brain and is the fuel for growth, improves school-readiness and educational achievement; reduces disparities in health, education and earning potential; and helps to break the intergenerational cycle of poverty. Studies have shown that a hungry child tends to grow up to be a poor adult.
Malnutrition affects disease risk. Here are a few examples:
· Vitamin A Deficiency: affects the development of immune function and eyesight.
· Niacin Iodine Deficiencies: cause pellagra, characterized by diarrhea, rashes on the skin and enlarged thyroid.
· Vitamin D Deficiency: causes rickets, weak bones, skeletal deformities, impaired growth and dental deformities.
· Iron Deficiency: results in a deficiency in hemoglobin for the production of red blood cells, with less oxygen carried to cells—causing slowed brain development, decreased immune function and decreased school performance.
Food-insecure children are more likely to experience colds, stomachaches and headaches, and suffer from generally poorer health than food-secure children. A nutritious diet—away from processed foods and sugars—nurtures developmental growth.
What You Can Do
The New Mexico Association of Food Banks, coupled with a statewide network of more than 500 partner agencies, reports that between 30 percent and 40 percent of the clients they serve are children under the age of 18. The Food Depot (based in Santa Fe, serving nine counties) and Roadrunner Food Bank in Albuquerque provide services in northern, central and southern New Mexico.
This issue is a reflection of New Mexico’s overall low socio-economic indicators. Programs for children, in addition to the backpack program, include: the Square Meals Program, which provides after-school nutrition; the summer Lunchbox Express delivery to community locations; and the Boys and Girls Clubs. You can click on a program you want to support on the organization’s website. Contact the Food Depot at 505.471.1633 (www.thefooddepot.org) or Roadrunner Food Bank at 505.247.2052 (www.rrfb.org).
You can feed four hungry people with every dollar you give. Or consider volunteering your time to help stretch donation dollars. And spread the word about hunger in New Mexico. Your compassion can make a substantial difference!
Susan Guyette, Ph.D., is of Métis heritage (Micmac Indian/Acadian French). She is an Integrative Nutrition Health coach and a planner specializing in cultural tourism, cultural centers, museums and native foods. Her passion is supporting the cultural retention of time-honored traditions. firstname.lastname@example.org