THE DAILY REALITY
Understanding Child Hunger
Hunger is a daily reality for many Cayman Islands students who aren’t getting enough to eat at home. Consequently, teachers are taking action in order to address this issue within their classrooms and lunch halls. The Share our Strength Teachers Report Survey states that, on average, teachers report spending $25 per month out of pocket on classroom food.
Teachers frequently refer students and parents to available resources, such as the free school meal vouchers provided to eligible families by the CI Government’s Need Assessment Unit. Programs supplying free school lunches have existed in the Cayman Islands for many years and are vital in providing our children with the food they need for healthy mental and physical development. These programs also help build a foundation for investments in health, education and economic growth, and in the fight against childhood hunger.
Historical data shows that many children in our public schools rely on subsidised or free school meals. For many, this is the only solid meal they will receive throughout the entire day. Recent statistics shown below reflect the number of children who have been assisted with school lunches within the past x school years in the Cayman Islands. However, it has been reported that these numbers are severely understated.
ASSISTANCE PROVIDED BY THE NEEDS ASSESSMENT UNIT (Fiscal Year Ended June 30)
|No. Eligible Children||532||448||349|
According to the World Food Programme, 795 billion people in the world, or one in every nine, suffer from chronic hunger. While hunger affects people of all ages it is particularly devastating for children. Each year, more than 3.5 million children die from malnutrition. Hunger robs children of a healthy and productive life, stunting the mental and physical development of the next generation. Reducing chronic hunger is essential to investment in health, education and economics as well as the sustainable development of the individuals, communities and nations.
The number of Cayman Islands families that are food insecure, meaning they struggle to afford enough nutritious food, at this time exceeds 1,000 each year as per data maintained by the CI Government’s Needs Assessment Unit. Research shows that children in food insecure families face lasting challenges in their mental development and health with even short-term episodes of hunger, placing them at risk of cognitive, behavioural, emotional, and physical problems. Hungry children are more likely to have low energy, be late or absent for school, be more apathetic, disinterested, irritable or hyperactive, have more trouble concentrating, and have lower self-esteem or poorer social skills than their peers. Longer term, poor dietary habits that begin in childhood can develop into symptoms of diseases such as obesity, heart dysfunction, diabetes, and cancer.
Childhood is a critical period in determining the development of an individual’s health into adolescence and adulthood. Poor dietary habits can develop into symptoms of diseases such as obesity, heart dysfunction, diabetes, and cancer.
A hungry child is disadvantaged and not equipped to grow, develop, learn and succeed like other kids. They have trouble focusing, suffer from headaches and other ailments and fall behind in virtually every way.
The challenge is in connecting food to the children, who desperately need it where they live, learn and play. Whilst we recognize that it is the child’s parent or caretaker’s primary responsibility to be the guardians of their healthy growth and development, a lack of money and time prevents many parents from effectively doing so in today’s economic climate. Economic hardship and the growing number of children and families in our community in need means that school meal and food voucher program funding requirements are high.
Awareness of the issue and failure to address it remain significant obstacles. It is often easier to ignore the problem. However to discount these issues comes at a greater cost to society, as the cost of early intervention is modest compared to those associated with poor nutrition and poor education.