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How Hunger Affects Children

By Katy Yang

Contributing Author

No child should ever have to go to school with an empty stomach or worry about how they will get their next meal. While child hunger is the most prevalent throughout the developing world, it plagues even the wealthiest countries, including 1.15 million, or one in six people under 18 in Canada.

As most households experiencing food insecurity live in poverty, child hunger creates a vicious cycle. In many cases, a malnourished child faces the onset of physical, psychological, and socioeconomic issues that may carry on into their adulthood, and even to their own children.

Parents struggling to afford food often must resort to cheaper, less healthy diets in order to feed their children and themselves. As a result, child hunger is linked with diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure—dangerous health conditions that can pervade for a lifetime.

Because high-fat, high-cholesterol, and sugary foods are easier and less time-consuming to access for low-income families, food insecurity often causes the double burden of malnutrition and obesity. Unfortunately, those who struggled with obesity as a child are likely to continue experiencing it in adulthood.

Nutrient deficiencies at a young age can have a multitude of detrimental health effects. Childhood malnutrition can lead to anemia, bone deformities, weakened immune systems, and a greater risk of chronic illness. Infants whose mothers experienced hunger during pregnancy are more likely to be affected by low birth weight and vulnerability to disease.

Many children growing up with poor nutrition also encounter higher rates of psychological impacts—behavioural issues, stressful life events, moodiness, and mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression.

Furthermore, the same conditions that caused these health issues can set people back from receiving treatment for it. Many food-insecure families have to regularly choose between food and healthcare, along with other necessities including housing, utilities, and education.

Hunger can impact a child’s education in various facets of their school life. Fatigue, behavioural issues, and health problems caused by poor nutrition can all negatively affect a student’s academic performance. Since children growing up in food-insecure families often enter the workforce earlier to support their household, they also usually have less time and money to devote to their education.

Not only can food insecurity directly impact a child’s education, it can make socializing in school more taxing. It is common for children to be bullied by peers for their obesity. Additionally, many students in lower-income families experience social ostracization for their economic status, mental health challenges, and for receiving support from food programs.

Today, as post-secondary education becomes an increasingly common requirement for employment opportunities, finding a stable, sustainable job is becoming increasingly difficult for those struggling academically and financially. All in all, hunger, poverty, and academic struggles create a self-perpetuating cycle that is very difficult to break away from.

Nutrition in childhood is a determining factor for physical health, mental health, academic performance, and many other important areas of a person’s life and success. Adequate food is one of the most essential needs for ensuring a child’s proper development, and, sadly, one that is often not fulfilled.

Hunger is caused not by a shortage of food, but its availability and affordability in certain areas and for certain groups. In Canada, child hunger disproportionately impacts Indigenous communities. Canada’s history of destroying and outlawing Indigenous traditions, and of forced assimilation through residential schools, have caused many Indigenous hunting and fishing traditions to be lost. To this day, Indigenous Canadians are twice as likely to be food insecure as the average non-Indigenous Canadian.

There are various ways you can help provide a meal to a child in need, from within your community to across the globe:

  • Donating non-perishable foods and money to local food banks and pantries

  • Starting or contributing to food drives and fundraisers

  • Advocating for an in-school food program for students—Canada is the only G7 country without a national school food program

  • Supporting community-led food initiatives in Indigenous communities, such as through Canadian Feed The Children

  • Donating to, and advocating for an international organization for food security and children’s rights, such as UNICEF, World Food Programme, and Action Against Hunger


5 eye-opening ways kids are affected by food insecurity. Children First Canada. (2021, March 14).

Mankad, K. (2019, January 9). Hungry mothers, hungry daughters: Addressing the cycle of malnutrition. ONE.

Richmond, C., Steckley, M., Neufeld, H., Kerr, R. B., Wilson, K., & Dokis, B. (2020). First nations Food ENVIRONMENTS: Exploring the role of Place, income, and social connection. Current Developments in Nutrition, 4(8).

Weinreb, L., Wehler, C., Perloff, J., Scott, R., Hosmer, D., Sagor, L., & Gundersen, C. (2002). Hunger: Its impact on children's health and mental health. PEDIATRICS, 110(4).

Why is there food insecurity in Canada? Canadian Feed The Children. (2021, March 8).

World child hunger facts - world hunger education. World Hunger News. (2018, July 28).

Disclaimer: Views and opinions expressed in the blog posts are those of the contributing author. Rising Sun Food Drive Foundation makes every effort to provide space for young people to advocate and voice their thoughts, research, opinions and ideas that are inspired by our mission but may not reflect on the organization's services and operations.

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