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Thursday, July 19, 2012

Summer Food Programs Have Food But Not Kids

Earnestine Nelson, chief cook for the Alpha and Omega Church’s free summer meals program for children and teens, checks the progress of her peas and carrots while frying fish fillets and tater tots for lunch in Jackson, Miss. (AP)

During the school year more than 21 million kids in the U.S. get free and reduced-price school lunches, but in the summer only about 3 million of those kids get a free meal.

That’s despite the fact that the U.S. Department of Agriculture provides funding for millions of children to receive a free lunch during the summer. In most states, 85 percent of those who are eligible don’t participate, according to Billy Shore, the executive director of the nonprofit organization Share our Strength, which aims to end childhood hunger in the U.S.

Shore says some communities have a shortage of sites providing the meals and even in communities with sufficient sites, parents often don’t know that these programs operate during the summer.

Shore says missing out on these meals can hold kids back.

“In terms of brain development, the brain does not develop as robustly as the brain of a well-fed or well-stimulated child,” Shore told Here & Now’s Monica Brady-Myerov.

Under fed children may also have trouble concentrating in school when they’re hungry.

There also may be a link between hunger and obesity. Shore says families who don’t have enough nutritious food will go for the cheapest options, “which turn out to be the highest-calorie, least nutritious choices,” he said. “A lot of hunger actually fuels obesity.”

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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