As much as we don’t like to think about it, poverty and food insecurity are still significant problems in Canada. More than three million Canadians live at or below the poverty line — and many of them are children.
Food insecurity particularly impacts the well-being of children, and the effects can be long-lasting, if not lifelong. Children and youth represent the youngest citizens in our country. We need to protect their right to survival, so they can avoid the far-reaching impacts of malnourishment at an early age.
Keep reading to learn about food insecurity and how it affects children in Canada.
What Is Food Insecurity?
Food insecurity is the state in which someone has inadequate or inconsistent access to nutritional food.
People suffering from food insecurity are often poor, though not all count as “under the poverty line”. They tend to skip meals and eat foods with poor nutritional value, which is often more affordable.
Many people are under the false impression that if someone has a home and a job, they won’t encounter food insecurity. In reality, low-income families with homes can still suffer.
Many of these families live paycheck-to-paycheck and don’t have the time or money for nutritious meals. This impacts everyone in the household, including children. The impacts of food insecurity on children go beyond the feeling of hunger.
Here are 5 eye-opening ways that kids are affected by food insecurity.
While it may seem strange, food insecurity can lead to childhood obesity.
Most parents ensure that their children are fed as much as possible, despite any financial setbacks. These same parents, though, may not have the money or time to prepare nutritious meals.
Some parents working long hours have little or no time to cook. Others have to make the difficult choice between paying for rent, food, clothes or health care. Sometimes that decision means food costs need to stay low.
This leads to families eating a lot of cheap foods with low nutrition density. These are foods that are high in trans fats and sugars, and low in fibre and important vitamins (for example, fast food).
Children on a fast-food diet are prone to obesity. And childhood obesity can lead to adult obesity. Sadly, these children are set on a difficult course early on in life.
2. Nutritional or Vitamin Deficiencies
If children are eating foods that are not nutrient-dense, they can end up with various nutritional deficiencies. This can lead to fatigue or even illness.
Children with improper nutrition can end up with anemia, stunted growth or bone deformities and abnormalities.
Children who are nutrient-deficient will also be moodier and face more challenges with emotional stability, which hinders their ability to mature in this area.
3. School Challenges
Food insecurity can also impact a child’s experience in school.
Many school children from low-income households qualify for free or reduced-price breakfasts and lunches. Not all schools in all provinces offer this, and not all children who are food-insecure are going to qualify. While there are plans for better food programs in schools, the process is still ongoing.
Children who don’t get sufficient nutrition are going to be fatigued throughout the day. This can impact their educational performance. They may end up with poor grades, even if they’ve done all of the required work and studying.
Youth may not have as much time to focus on their schoolwork. Some teenagers have to get a job to help support the needs of the family.
There are also school-related emotional and social setbacks from food insecurity. School isn’t just a time for education, it’s a time for social growth and development.
Children who suffer from childhood obesity may be ostracized or bullied. This is also true of children who are known to receive free lunches.
Children who are emotionally fatigued or unstable due to their food insecurity may have a harder time making friends and forming bonds, stunting their emotional and social development.
Overall, school is going to be more challenging for children without reliable food sources.
4. Parental Stress
Adults who are dealing with food and financial insecurity are likely to be stressed, depressed or otherwise unwell.
Parents who are stressed or mentally unwell have a harder time with those early childhood years where emotional connection is most important. Not only do they have less time to bond with their child, but they also may not have the capacity to do so.
Parental stress continues to be a problem throughout the child’s life. Over-stressed parents aren’t able to give as much time and attention to their children. Even with the best intentions, they may end up emotionally blocked off.
Even wonderful and loving parents may have worse caregiving practices when they’re stressed over their income and overall security. When the parents are stressed, so are the children.
5. Generational Poverty
Children who grow up in food-insecure homes can easily turn into adults who lead food-insecure homes.
While many people aspire to do better than the households that they came from, it’s harder to move up in life when you have fewer resources available to you.
Children who can’t excel in school may not be able to get into college (or even graduate from high school). Even if they can, affording it can be a problem. While college isn’t a necessity for some jobs, many now require a bachelor’s degree.
These same children are going to have a harder time finding jobs that can support them more successfully than their parents. When they grow up and join the workforce, they may also have the additional responsibility of supporting the needs of their parents.
Effects of Food Insecurity: More Than Hunger
Food insecurity isn’t a hunger problem; it’s a health problem, an education problem, and a problem that everyone should be paying more attention to. The effects of food insecurity can last a lifetime and children shouldn’t have to manage that.
To learn more about the challenges that Canadian children face or to learn about how you can advocate for them, visit our site. Change starts with us.