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This Is Your Body On Starvation Mode

by Katharine Hafner |

21.6 million kids filled their bellies in the 2015-2016 school year, thanks to the National School Lunch Program, according to the  Food Research & Action Center . The good news? 21.6 million kids were able to access free or reduced-cost lunch in low-income areas. The bad news? For most of those kids, that might just be their only source of food until the next day.

One in five children are unsure where their next meal is coming from, making food insecurities an overwhelming issue in the United States. The effects of these insecurities extends far past a child’s grumbling tummy at night. We are talking malnutrition opening the door to plenty of chronic diseases and plenty of cognitive and behavioral disadvantages.

It is really no secret that childhood is the most pivotal time when it comes to development in a wide range of areas, making proper nutrition especially important. Sufficient calorie and nutrient intake are the basics when it comes to eating for proper health, and these kids could be missing out when it comes to these necessities.

The National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program implement some rather strict guidelines when it comes to what these meals are made of and the calorie requirements. According to  schoolnutrition.org,  the USDA updated these requirements as of 2012. The checklist includes fairly basic nutritional standards: an emphasis on fruits and vegetables, keeping the majority of grains consumed whole and unrefined, etc.

What stands out the most in these requirements is the calorie guidelines. They are not glaringly high or low, and honestly, they are right on par with what certain ages should be consuming for breakfast and lunch. Here comes the catch, though. Since some of these kids are only eating at school, their total caloric intake for the day will ring in much lower than a growing kid would need.

Let us crunch some numbers, shall we? For grades 9 through 12, the sum of the calories for breakfast and lunch meals would land the kids somewhere between 1,200 and 1,450. Based on an article from  SF Gate , boys ages 14-18 should consume 2,200 to 3,200 calories a day, while girls that same age should be eating around 1,800 to 2,400 calories per day to maintain a healthy weight and lifestyle.

When put into that perspective, it is easy to see the sizeable gap that is created when students only eat meals from the National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program. Kids could fall short of upwards of 1,000 calories per day, leaving some serious disparities in their nutrition. Could you imagine going to school for eight hours everyday with only a fraction of the food your body physically needs to function properly?

The effects of lacking these calories is not looking great in the physical department. First of all, there is plenty of evidence to support the harmful effects of a diet that consists of anything lower than 1,200 calories per day. An article from  Livestrong , lists a variety of outcomes of any diet that fails to meet this benchmark: dizziness and fatigue, weakness, and even extreme nutrient and electrolyte imbalances that wreak havoc on the body. A diet this low is not even recommended for those  wanting  to lose weight, much less a child at a pivotal time for development. The article even tossed around the term “starvation mode:” the body’s decreasing of the metabolism as natural response to insufficient caloric intake. Something you definitely do not want associated with a child’s caloric consumption, huh?

Going one step further, there seems to be an evident lack of iron consumption in kids who fall in under the category of food insecure. Proper iron intake supports healthy red blood cells that help carry oxygen throughout the body, as well as supports healthy hair, skin, and nails. When someone fails to consume enough iron, he/she develops what is known as iron deficiency anemia, which leads to fatigue, headaches, and trouble concentrating, according to  WedMD . All of these symptoms are bound to make living a typical life as a kid and student much more challenging.

Take a look for yourself. A quick Google search linking food insecurities and iron deficiency will turn up plenty of results. While they range in methods and numbers, they all can pretty much agree on one key takeaway: kids who live in food insecure households are more likely to suffer from iron deficiency and anemia.

If the physical side effects are not enough, there is plenty of evidence to support cognitive and behavioral downturns as a result of food insecurities. A study from the National Institutes of Health  cited evidence to support an increase in hyperactivity, inattention, and poor memory. The same article even cited inadequate nutrition in childhood as a precursor to developing depression and anxiety later in life. Talk about some serious outcomes of malnutrition and facing challenging life stressors at an early age.

It is pretty clear that while these subsidized meal programs are making powerful efforts in terms of implementing proper nutrition guidelines and providing food for kids who would not otherwise have access, there are some gaps to fill. That is where FOR BETTER NOT WORSE comes in.
 
For each item purchased, FBNW gives a bag of groceries to kids struggling with food insecurities in the U.S. We made it our mission to personally distribute these groceries ourselves to the children we impact, and we pride ourselves in the fact that we do not simply write a donation check to a charitable organization. We are beyond thankful to partner with companies like Beanitos, Happy Family, and That’s it. to offer our kids nutritious options, too.

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