This is another article in a series about hunger and food insecurity issues in Kansas and Butler County.
In our Hunger in the Heartland post last month, we invited you to test your knowledge about hunger in our community by taking a Hunger Quiz.
Today, we’re providing additional information about this serious public health problem. Future posts will look at solutions to address these issues in our community.
Hunger is the result of food insecurity: not having reliable access to enough food for a healthy life.
Kansas is among the 10 states with the worst hunger problems.
During the last decade, the number of children living in high-poverty areas increased by 229% in Kansas (compared to a 25% increase nationally).
Kansas has the 7th highest percentage of residents who are either cutting back on the quantity and quality of food, or skipping meals entirely.
The food insecurity rate among children is over 22.7 % in Kansas -- that’s more than 1 out of 5 children.
Close to 60% of students in the El Dorado School District (USD 490) qualify for free and reduced price meals due to living in economically disadvantaged households -- about 600 are elementary school students (K-5) and 600 in Middle and High School.
Why so many hungry children and food insecure households in Kansas?
Some might dismiss these numbers as inaccurate because some might lie and abuse the system. However, even assuming these numbers might be high, that still means a large number of children experience hunger daily in our community.
Nearly a third of working families earn salaries so low that they struggle to pay for basic necessities. Some people think food insecurity is the result of people being lazy and not wanting to work. However, food insecurity is largely a problem in households with at least one working parent. The working poor struggle with low wages and high housing, utility, transportation, medical, and food prices.
Many households are one medical emergency away from poverty. People in need of surgery or extended medical treatments don’t bring home a paycheck during recovery, and when they return to work, their take-home pay can be reduced up to 25% due to garnishment for unpaid medical and other bills, up to 50% for child support and alimony.
Many unskilled jobs available in our area only hire part time or seasonal workers. A 30 hour a week job paying $7.25 an hour results in pre-tax earnings of $217.50. It's hard to live on that, let alone support a child.
The Food Stamp Program (SNAP) is an important safety net but the average monthly benefit in Kansas is barely $125. Also, only 63% of those eligible apply for Food Stamps. Many don’t know about this benefit or how to apply for it, and some prefer not to accept government aid.
Why is this a public health issue that affects us all?
Growing children are especially vulnerable to the adverse effects of inadequate food. Hunger affects their physical, cognitive and behavioral development.
Brain development continues throughout adolescence. Adequate nutrition is essential to ensure proper structural development. Inadequate food can affect the development of critical thinking, deductive reasoning, and problem solving skills.
Kids who don’t get enough to eat are more likely to struggle in school, four times more likely to need mental health counseling, seven times more likely to get into fights, and 12 times more likely to steal.
Food insecurity can be particularly hard for homeless students. School Districts in Butler County identified at least 147 students who were homeless in 2012.
Negative outcomes linked to childhood food insecurity.
Behavioral and emotional issues (anxiety, petulance, aggression, depression, inability to handle stress)
Decreased academic performance (poor memory, reduced concentration, difficulty learning, poor test scores)
Negative academic outcomes (repeating grades, dropping out of school)
Physical health problems (headaches, stomach aches, frequent colds)
Poor psychosocial outcomes (harder time getting along with others, increased risk of seeing a psychologist, getting expelled or suspended from school)
Contact for questions about specific sources for this data and information: Judie Storandt, email@example.com.