Five years ago, Share Our Strength CEO Billy Shore began to wonder why the number of hungry kids in the US hadn’t declined significantly since 1984, when he and his sister founded the anti-hunger organization.
“We knew that it wasn’t because we lack food as a nation—we obviously enjoy an abundance,” said Shore, speaking with reporters in New York City at the release of a new report from Share Our Strength and Deloitte, “Ending Childhood Hunger: A Social Impact Analysis.” He was joined by US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, actor and longtime anti-hunger activist Jeff Bridges and others. “And it wasn’t because we lack food or nutrition programs—we have school lunch and school breakfast, SNAP, WIC and others. So we felt it had to be because children weren’t accessing those programs.”
Shore said the extent to which children don’t access food nutrition programs is best described by “the big gap” between the 21 million low-income students who receive a free school lunch—all of whom are eligible for free breakfast—and the 11 million who eat school breakfast.
“So just a little over 50 percent of the kids who are eligible actually get the breakfast that they really need to perform well in school and be healthy kids,” said Shore.
Shore and Bridges began traveling across the country as part of Share Our Strength’s “No Kid Hungry” campaign to speak with governors about “how to knock down the barriers in their states to get more kids enrolled.”
“Both Democrats and Republicans want to do the right thing when they hear of the problem, the solution and that the resources are there to implement the solution,” said Shore, noting that the funding comes largely from the federal government.
They new report shows the dramatic effect that the School Breakfast Program can have on children’s academic, health and economic futures. It notes that in 2011, nearly 15 percent of US households were “food insecure,” or at-risk of hunger. Households with children were nearly twice as likely to be food insecure as households without children. As a result, more than one out of five kids struggled with hunger. When Share Our Strength surveyed 1,000 K-through-8 teachers—evenly divided between rural, urban and suburban schools—three out of five said they have students in their classrooms that regularly come to school hungry.
The study makes the costs of food insecurity clear: In early childhood, it’s associated with impaired brain development and more frequent hospitalizations. Across children of all ages, it’s linked with lower academic achievement. Hungry children are 31 percent more likely to be hospitalized, at a cost of $12,000 per pediatric hospitalization.