September is Hunger Action Month and September 10 is Hunger Action Day. This whole month, we are focusing on infant hunger and what it means for our community.
But first, a definition - What IS hunger anyway?
Hunger is when a person is unable to eat sufficient food to meet nutritional needs. In 2006, the US government shifted its focus to "food security" - the ability to access preferred foods in sufficient quantities on a regular basis.
We talk a lot about hunger in other countries, but it's important to know that hunger is right here in our community.
When a family is experiencing low food security - or food insecurity - they have irregular access to enough food. In many cases, families might be food secure one week and food insecure the next, while they are waiting for their next paycheck.
In the chart to the right, we see indicators of food insecurity among adults. Even those adults in food secure households reported that food did not last, or they were worried it would run out. It's also important to note that almost ALL adults with low food security said they could not afford a balanced meal. We keep talking about healthy eating habits, but that's somewhat unfair when a lot of families are unable to afford more nutritionally balanced foods.
Food security by the numbers
The chart below shows us how many US households with children experienced food insecurity last year - 14% or 1 in 7 households.
Texas is ranked third in the nation for food insecurity (behind Arkansas and Mississippi), with 15% of households reporting food insecurity.
For households with children, that number is much different.
Right now in the Houston area, 1 in 4 children live in a household with low food security.
That means that 25% of families in our community - your neighbors, your kid's classmates, your coworkers - have irregular access to nutritious meals.
Why are so many families affected?
There are a lot of reasons that families might experience food insecurity, but it basically always boils down to money. Even with the Women Infants Children (WIC) and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs (SNAP), families are struggling like never before.
A full two-thirds of families living with food insecurity are working at least one job.
The minimum wage in Texas is $7.50, which is means that someone working full time would earn only $15,600 per year, under the Federal Poverty Level for a family of 2 ($17,240).
So what does this mean for us?
First the good news: In families with infants and children, parents prioritize the health and needs of their little ones. So when baby needs formula, or big siblings are hungry, mom and dad feed them first.
The bad news? That means that our parents and caregivers are sacrificing their own health and their own nutritional needs to keep their kids healthy.
Food security is a huge issue for our families, because money is tighter than ever and well-paid jobs are harder to find.
Food security is key for healthy growth and strong cognitive and physical development.
In food insecure households, infants are more likely to experience decreased health outcomes, limited cognitive development, and poorer academic outcomes; for parents, we see more maternal depression and poor attachment.
Many families cannot or do not breastfeed their infant, for reasons including medication, physical inability, or a preference for formula. Food insecurity can also influence a mother's likelihood of breastfeeding - when families experience food insecurity, mothers are less likely to exclusively breastfeed their infant.
Women who do breastfeed often need to supplement with formula because they do not produce enough breastmilk to meet baby’s full nutritional needs, or when they return to work or school.
A survey of L.I.F.E. Houston clients in 2016 found that 45% of women who started breastfeeding did not product enough breastmilk to meet their child’s nutritional needs.
Families are already living lean and the pandemic has only exacerbated these conditions.
By providing free infant formula assistance, we can help families make a little more room in their budget for rent, utilities, medical costs, and other essentials.
Join our monthly donor club and feed babies all year long.