Food Insecurity: A Global Threat to Children

Oct 17, 2013 8:30 AM ET
R. Jeep Bryant, executive vice president for marketing and corporate affairs at BNY Mellon

As part of BNY Mellon’s global initiative to raise awareness of food security and waste, R. Jeep Bryant, executive vice president for marketing and corporate affairs, shares his thoughts on the issues. This is the second in a four-part series.

Food Insecurity: A Global Threat to Children

Sadly, all over the world, many kids don’t have what they need to grow up, get an education and contribute to society.

Of the many factors that can prevent kids from reaching their potential, food insecurity is one that doesn’t immediately come to mind. However, children are particularly vulnerable when it comes to food insecurity, since under-nutrition can create a vicious cycle that’s hard to break. Undernourished girls are more likely to become undernourished women who give birth to underweight or stunted babies. And poor nutrition, both before and after a child is born, is devastating in that it produces long-term and sometimes irreversible outcomes.

Lack of proper nutrients during the earliest phases of a child’s growth stops the brain from developing properly. Studies have shown that children who experience this type of malnutrition are less literate and have more problems with math than their peers and can earn less than 20 percent less in adulthood, regardless of other factors.

Under-nutrition has health implications, as well. It weakens the immune system, so kids can get infections more easily, and it’s harder for them to recover properly. In extreme cases, it can become a major factor in whether a child recovers from an illness at all – for example, severely underweight children are almost 10 times more likely to die from diarrhea than children with healthy weights.

Of the many things that cause child under-nutrition, some are, relatively speaking, easy to address, like lack of food or disease. But there are also underlying causes that can be more insidious and hard to change, like a parent’s unemployment, lack of education or preferential access to food based on gender.

For all those reasons, the picture is pretty bleak. Globally, one in four children are stunted. Roughly 66 million school aged children attend classes hungry, and about 45 percent of all child deaths are linked to malnutrition.

So how can we help to change the picture?

For parents who are struggling with food insecurity, especially in regions where they’re faced with a choice between school and work, meals are often an incentive to send their kids to school. We can support the efforts of organizations like the World Food Programme that provide school meals to children throughout the world.

We can roll up our sleeves and help agencies like the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank assemble packages of food that kids can take home on Friday afternoons, ensuring they’ll have food to eat over the weekend. And we can support organizations that are committed to providing food aid through a lens of equality and empowerment, like Avvai Home & Orphanage in India, which doesn’t only serve meals to children, but also has specific programs designed to further the opportunities of girls.

Buzz Aldrin has been quoted as saying that if we can conquer space then we can conquer childhood hunger. He’s got a point – shouldn’t we at least try?