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Road Map for K-12 Education

Addressing Food Insecurity Summer, 2020 V.1.0


Addressing Food Insecurity In 2018, one in nine Americans—37 million people, including 11 million children—were food insecure, meaning they lacked consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life.1 Food insecurity among children is associated with a variety of negative health outcomes, including reductions in immune system functioning and increases in anxiety, depression, asthma, and weight gain.2, 3 Food insecurity has also been shown to negatively impact children’s academic performance and increase absenteeism, tardiness, and social dysfunction.4, 5, 6 Families experiencing food insecurity are often forced to make spending tradeoffs between food, housing, and health care, which can further fuel stress, chronic disease, and food insecurity.7 There are large disparities in U.S. with black and lowincome households experiencing food insecurity at rates two to three times the national average.8

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― How can we increase food security during the school year? To augment households’ funds to purchase groceries, qualifying families can utilize federal nutrition assistance programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP),9 the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC),10 and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).11 Within schools, the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs provide free and reduced-price meals to over 30 million children per day.12, 13 School meals provided through these federally assisted meal programs, for which all children in SNAPparticipating households are eligible, are required to adhere to strict nutrition standards based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA).14

― What can we do when school is out of session?

Educational Adaptation

Health Promotion

Risk Mitigation

Author / Summer - 2020

The USDA’s Summer Food Service Program allows children in lowincome areas to continue to receive free and reduced-price meals, but this program only serves one in seven children who normally receive free or reduced-price meals during the school year, and these meals do not adhere to the same nutrition standards.15, 16 In addition to federally funded programs, a number of nonprofit organizations offer programs to increase food security. For example, Feeding America, a nonprofit hunger relief organization, offers a variety of food assistance efforts, including school pantry programs, summer meal programs, and school backpack programs, through which lower-income students nationwide receive ingredients for nutritious meals for their families to cook over the weekends.17

Aviva Musicus Harvard T.H. Chan School Public Health

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How many Americans live in poverty? Over 38 million, or 12% of all Americans, according to 2018 data from the U.S. Census Bureau. 15 million of those were children. —No Kid Hungry

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Addressing Food Insecurity

― How has COVID-19 affected food insecurity? Food insecurity appears to have drastically increased during the pandemic, with some research suggesting that nearly one in five U.S. households with children under the age of 12 are currently experiencing food insecurity.18 This is unsurprising, as the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs and the Child and Adult Care Food Program—which normally collectively serve nearly 35 million children daily—are no longer operating under normal conditions.19 This means that parents who are already struggling financially are now responsible for providing up to two additional meals and snacks per child per day; these foods are also likely to be less nutritious when served at home than if they had been served through the federal programs.20

― What is being done to address this problem? The USDA has not required schools to continue food service during the pandemic, so some states and local school districts are adopting their own solutions, including a variety of “grab-n-go” meal sites that can provide multiple days’ worth of meals at once, meal deliveries to students’ homes or bus stops, and shelfstable ingredient deliveries organized by public-private partnerships in rural areas.21 At the federal level, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (signed into law on March 18, 2020) has allowed states to increase SNAP benefits for households with children who would normally receive free or reduced-price meals. Although pilot tests suggest that this approach can reduce severe food insecurity,22 feeding children with SNAP dollars instead of national school meals may negatively impact the nutritional quality of children’s diets, which may increase summer weight gain. 5

― What should schools keep in mind when reopening? Due to increases in food insecurity, more children may qualify for the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs, so schools should be prepared for increased meal volumes. Children may also be under more psychological stress and have gained more weight over the summer than normal due to a reliance on cheap, calorically dense food over the summer. Social distancing protocols may also change food service delivery in schools. Meals may need to be prepared by fewer food service staff, which may change the types of foods schools choose to serve. If social distancing in the food service area or broader cafeteria space is not feasible, students may need to have school meals delivered to them in their classrooms. Food service employees should follow CDC recommendations to reduce viral transmission and maintain a healthy work environment.23


― References Coleman-Jensen A, Rabbitt MP, Gregory CA, Singh A. Household Food Security in the United States in 2017. Washington, DC:

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US Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service; 2018 2

Gundersen C, Ziliak JP. Food Insecurity and Health Outcomes. Health Aff (Millwood). 2015;34(11):1830-1839.

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Jyoti, D. F., Frongillo, E. A., & Jones, S. J. (2005). Food insecurity affects school children's academic performance, weight gain,

and social skills. The Journal of nutrition, 135(12), 2831-2839. Kleinman R. E., Murphy J. M., Little M., Pagano M., Wehler C. A., Regal K., Jellinek M. S. Hunger in children in the United

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States: potential behavioral and emotional correlates. Pediatrics. 1998;101:3. 5

Alaimo K., Olson C. M., Frongillo E. A. Food insufficiency and American school-aged children's cognitive, academic and

psychosocial development. Pediatrics. 2001c;108:44–53. 6

Murphy J. M., Wehler C. A., Pagano M. E., Little M., Kleinman R. E., Jellinek M. S. Relationships between hunger and

psychosocial functioning in low-income American children. J. Am. Acad. Child Adolesc. Psychiatry. 1998;37:163–171. 7

Seligman, H. K., & Schillinger, D. (2010). Hunger and socioeconomic disparities in chronic disease. N Engl J Med, 363(1), 6-9.

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Coleman-Jensen A, Rabbitt MP, Gregory CA, Singh A. Household Food Security in the United States in 2017. Washington, DC:

US Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service; 2018 9

USDA FNS. 2020. Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). https://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/

supplemental-nutrition-assistance-program. 10

USDA FNS. 2020. Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). https://www.fns.

usda.gov/wic. 11

US HHS. 2019. About TANF. https://www.acf.hhs.gov/ofa/programs/tanf/about.

12

USDA, Benefits.gov. 2020. National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs. https://www.benefits.gov/benefit/366.

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USDA FNS. (2017). The National School Lunch Program. Available at https://fns-prod.azureedge.net/sites/default/files/

cn/NSLPFactSheet.pdf. 14

Code of Federal Regulations. (June 28, 2013). National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program: Nutrition

Standards for All Foods Sold in School as Required by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, 78 Fed. Reg. 125. Federal Register: The Daily Journal of the United States. Available at: https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2013-06-28/ pdf/2013-15249.pdf. 15

USDA FNS. 2020. Summer Food Service Program. https://fns-prod.azureedge.net/sites/default/files/resource-files/SFSP-

Fact-Sheet.pdf. 16

United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service. Child nutrition programs expenditures by program,

fiscal year 2018. https://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/food-nutrition-assistance/child-nutrition-programs/charts/ - expenditures. 17

Feeding America. 2020. Our Food Assistance Programs. https://www.feedingamerica.org/our-work/

hunger-relief-programs. 18

Bauer L. 2020. The COVID-19 Crisis Has Already Left Too Many Children Hungry in America. Brookings Institution. https://

www.hamiltonproject.org/blog/the_covid_19_crisis_has_already_left_too_many_children_hungry_in_america#_ftnref2.

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― References (continued) 19

United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service. Child nutrition programs. https://www.ers.usda.gov/

topics/food-nutrition-assistance/child-nutrition-programs/ 20

Dunn, C. G., Kenney, E., Fleischhacker, S. E., & Bleich, S. N. (2020). Feeding low-income children during the Covid-19

pandemic. New England Journal of Medicine, 382(18), e40. 21

Dunn, C. G., Kenney, E., Fleischhacker, S. E., & Bleich, S. N. (2020). Feeding low-income children during the Covid-19

pandemic. New England Journal of Medicine, 382(18), e40. 22

Gordon AR, Briefel RR, Collins AM, Rowe GM, Klerman JA. Delivering Summer Electronic Benefit Transfers for Children

through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children: benefit use and impacts on food security and foods Consumed. J Acad Nutr Diet 2017;117(3):367-375.e2. 23

CDC. 2020. What School Nutrition Professionals and Volunteers at Schools Need to Know about COVID-19. https://www.

cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/organizations/school-nutrition-professionals.html.

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Road Map for K-12 Education - Addressing Food Insecurity  

Road Map for K-12 Education - Addressing Food Insecurity  

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