Health Science Major Studies Effect of Hunger on Young Students
Forty-one million people struggle with hunger in the United States, including 13 million children. This food insecurity makes it extremely difficult for children to focus on their education. Keene State junior Julia Brida, from Fayetteville, Arkansas, researched the impacts of food insecurity on young children and their ability to succeed in school.
Her project, “How Food Insecurity Impacts Academic Performance in Young Children,” collates information from numerous peer-reviewed articles and journals to paint a broader picture of how hunger affects students. At first, focusing only on food seemed too narrow to yield any useful results, because food insecurity is generally the function of a larger issue: poverty.
“A lot of the work that I found showed that poverty impacts educational outcomes instead,” said Brida. “Because food insecurity is a result of poverty, I feel that my question was a little too focused when the existing research is on the broader topic of economic hardship.”
After some more searching on the topic, Brida found that there were in fact studies done comparing children’s success in school based on their food availability.
“The research mostly showed that students who were food insecure did not do as well in school as children who were food secure. They scored lower on tests, which was how they were measured. Generally, they were absent and disengaged from school more often,” said Brida.
It’s not a stretch to assume or imagine that children who are hungry have a more difficult time in school, and it informed the experiences that Brida had growing up in Arkansas; a state that ranks very high on the list of impoverished states in the U.S.
“Growing up I had friends who were food insecure and I could see that I performed a little better than they did. Now I look at it from a scientific standpoint and I can see, looking back, how food insecurity played a part in their performance,” said Brida.
While growing up in Arkansas had little to do with choosing to major in health science, Brida said that the major does focus on a lot of social issues that affect poorer areas of the country.
“Health science encompasses a lot of different social issues like poverty, food insecurity, nutrition, and education,” said Brida. “Socioeconomic status is a topic that comes up in every single class I’ve taken because it affects every aspect of someone’s life. We’re focused on preventative measures for the issues that already exist. We want to prevent them from happening or lessen the negative outcomes.”
While her research was an exercise in gathering and distilling data, Brida said that she did find some hypothetical solutions that would even the playing field for students across the country.
“One of the things that I found in my research was a proposal for universal free lunches. There’s a stigma around receiving free lunches so students don’t want to eat them because they don’t want to appear poor,” said Brida. “With universal free lunches, they would be more inclined to eat lunch and even just show up because they know there’s a meal waiting for them.”