Seventy-six percent of public school teachers say their students regularly come to school hungry, according to a new survey released by No Kid Hungry. While the study concluded that hunger is on the rise among children in the U.S. and that its consequences are immeasurable, the results also show that solutions are already in sight.
The advocacy group surveyed more than 1,000 school employees nationwide to uncover the scope of the issue from those who are on the front lines.
For the first time ever, more than half of public school kids are from low-income families. Without proper nutrition, the students’ attendance, participation and social interactions precipitously suffer, the study concluded. As a result, children who don’t have enough to eat are less likely to graduate from high school and go on to college, often leading to long-term socioeconomic consequences.
“Hunger is causing the demise of an entire generation that has so much potential,” Wintor McNeel, a guidance counselor, told No Kid Hungry. “These children are fighting for their lives daily.”
While these kids may not have stocked fridges at home, most public schools actually provide free breakfast. But because the programs often fail to cater to students’ logistical and emotional needs, many students don’t take advantage of the critical nourishment they need to thrive.
Nearly 10 million kids who qualify for free lunch, don’t eat free breakfast at school, according to a report released last month by the Food Research and Action Center. Many miss out either because the meal is served before school starts and kids can’t get there in time or because students are too ashamed to admit in front of their peers that their families can’t afford the basics.
But schools that have explored making minor tweaks — such as simply serving breakfast to all students in the classroom so it feels less shameful — have reported increased participation in the program, which has led to rave results in their students’ studies.
According to the survey, nine in 10 educators said breakfast was the “key to turning the tides on hunger and achievement.” At schools where breakfast is served in the classroom as a regular part of the school day, 73 percent of teachers said students pay better attention in class and 53 percent reported higher attendance.
“This is the first year we’ve had a free breakfast program for all students,” Margot Shaver, a first-grade teacher, told No Kid Hungry. “Not only are we feeding their physical needs, we’re feeding their emotional needs. The light turns on; they’re able to function in the classroom.”
According to “Ending Childhood Hunger: A Social Impact Analysis ,” a 2013 report by No Kid Hungry, increasing the number of kids who eat lunch at school could have significant nationwide impacts. If 70 percent of elementary- and middle-school students eating a reduced-price lunch were also getting breakfast at school, the benefits would include:
- 4.8 million fewer school absences
- 3.2 million students would see improvements in standardized test scores
- More than 800,000 additional students would graduate from high school
Child hunger is a devastating yet solvable problem. To learn about how you can be a part of the solution to end child hunger, check out No Kid Hungry’s Action Center.