Child Hunger Expert Mariana Chilton Available to Comment on Poverty and Food Insecurity

Dr. Mariana Chilton, an associate professor and director of the Center for Hunger-Free Communities at the Drexel University School of Public Health, is available to comment on poverty, food insecurity and hunger in America after the release of reports on food security in the United States by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Economic Research Service, and on income, poverty and health insurance from the United States Census. Chilton’s comments stress the impact of poverty and food insecurity on families with young children.

U.S. Census income findings for 2011 include:

  • Young children living in poverty: One out of four children under the age of five (25.1 percent), live in poverty. Furthermore, 12.3 percent, or 2.45 million children under 5 are living in extreme poverty, at or below 50 percent of the federal poverty level.
  • Growth in income inequality: Those with incomes over $100,000 saw an increase of 1.6 percent, while earnings for middle- and low-income individuals decreased.
  • Overall 15 percent of people are living in poverty, meaning they earn less than $23,021 annually for a family of four. The percentage is almost the same as that reported for the previous year.

USDA household food insecurity findings include:

  • Young children living in food insecure households: About one in four children under age 6 (24.5 percent) lived in food insecure households in 2011. This figure has particularly significant public health implications: these early years lay the foundation for children’s health, cognitive, social and emotional development and future potential.
  • In the U.S. 14.9 percent of households were food insecure, meaning 1 out of every 6 households did not have access to enough food for an active and healthy life.
  • Though this marks no real change from the previous year, very low food security (the more severe form of food insecurity) increased to reach 5.7 percent or 6.8 million households, levels seen at the height of the recession in 2008 and 2009.

Chilton pointed out that the new USDA data reflect food insecurity issues affecting children in Philadelphia, as she and colleagues have reported in the Philadelphia site of the national Children’s HealthWatch study:

  • At the height of the recession between 30-50 percent of the families with children surveyed said they did not have enough money for food. 
  • Over 60 percent of families with children under age 4 interviewed by the Children’s HealthWatch study in Philadelphia had some form of hardship with housing, utilities and food.  
  • Since the beginning of the recession through the end of 2011, Children’s HealthWatch-Philadelphia saw an upward spike in food insecurity among families with young children, increasing from 16.8 percent in 2008 to 22 percent in 2011.   

Comments from Chilton regarding food insecurity and hunger:

  • “Being food insecure means far more than not having enough to eat; there are lifelong implications. Children in food insecure households have more health problems, are more likely to be hospitalized, and to have developmental delays.  Young kids who are food insecure may arrive at kindergarten unprepared, and may never catch up to their peers.”
  •  “What these numbers show is that we have malnutrition right here in America.  The people suffering from hunger are our neighbors, they are all around us—in the suburbs, cities and rural areas. We can do better as a nation.”
  • Unless our leaders act, the situation will only deteriorate further. Currently, there is no national plan to end hunger.
  • “What we do know is that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, the nation’s first strongest defense against hunger, has prevented food insecurity from rising nationally. However, its funding and structure are under threat in Congress, as deliberations on the renewal of the program continue. Additionally, this past summer’s drought has affected corn and soy crops, key ingredients in animal feed and many common foods, which is expected to drive food prices higher in the coming months. If we value our children and want them to be ready to learn, then we must ensure that they receive the nutrition they need through all stages of their lives, especially when they are just starting to develop and grow.”

Comments from Chilton regarding the relationship of poverty and hunger:

  • “We knew that SNAP is the nation’s strongest defense against hunger, and with the data today we also know it can lift children and families out of poverty. Now is the time to protect this program from any further cuts, because we see it is effective in helping buffer kids from the recession and the ravages of poverty.”
  • “Despite good news on SNAP benefits, deep poverty experienced by young kids remains problematic.  This data is a reflection of our nation’s values.  It shows just how little we value our young children, when we can allow for one quarter of our kids to suffer from poverty. Is this the American legacy?  And when will our country’s leaders, and those who want to lead our country, begin to speak up about it?”

Members of the Center for Hunger-Free Communities’ “Witnesses to Hunger” program, who have personally struggled with poverty and food insecurity, are also available for comment.

  • “I see more and more people in need of assistance with purchasing food,” said Tianna Gaines-Turner, of Witnesses to Hunger. “Many come with their children who wake up in the morning hungry and go to bed with their stomachs growling.”

*** To schedule an interview with Chilton or a Witness to Hunger, contact Rachel Ewing in the Drexel University Office of University Communications **