New Report Shows Decline in Access to Summer Meals for Disadvantaged Children

June 18, 2012

by Tim Mudd

A new report published by the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) finds that the number of children from low-income families participating in federal summer nutrition programs fell last year despite rising levels of need.

According to the report, entitled, "Hunger Doesn't Take a Vacation: Summer Nutrition Status Report 2012," only one in seven disadvantaged students who depended on the National School Lunch Program during the regular 2010-11 school year received meals through federally-funded summer nutrition programs in July 2011.

The report emphasizes the poor health consequences that can result for children who go without regular access to healthy meals during the summer. In addition to greater risk that more children will go hungry, problems of weight gain and childhood obesity are also exacerbated in the summer months because many children are less active and consume meals of lower nutritional quality.

Summer nutritional programs, such as the National School Lunch Program and the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), can mitigate these concerns by offering free, healthy meals at participating sites located at schools, parks and other public and nonprofit facilities.

Declining Summer Meals Participation

As state and local governments have sought to address budget shortfalls, major cuts in summer schools and youth programs have limited access to summer meals. Fewer program options for children and youth have meant fewer sites serving summer meals in many communities.

The report finds that the total number of children participating in summer nutrition programs fell by 24,000, or 0.9 percent, between July 2010 and July 2011, extending a decline first seen in 2009. The drop in participation not only means diminished access to healthy meals for needy children but also missed opportunities for states and municipalities to attract federal dollars into local economies and support high-quality programs that provide healthy food.

"FRAC's report shows that the recession has meant that more children are using the regular school year food programs, but budget cuts are causing school districts and youth services providers in many states to eliminate or reduce their summer programs," explained FRAC President Jim Weill. "States, cities and schools must redouble their efforts to ensure that children don't pay the price of missed summer meals."

Addressing the Need

FRAC notes that there are several steps that city and state agencies can take right now to address looming shortfalls in the availability of meals this summer, including reaching out to schools and making sure that they send information home with all children about local summer meals sites. City leaders can also partner with state agencies, program providers, anti-hunger advocates and other community-based organizations to facilitate outreach efforts. Other effective strategies include working with local news stations to promote awareness of summer meals sites and communicating through newsletters, social media and city websites.

With funding from ConAgra Foods Foundation, NLC's Institute for Youth, Education and Families is working in partnership with FRAC to help cities reduce child hunger through access to healthy summer meals. NLC and FRAC are also working together on the Combating Child Hunger through Afterschool Meal Programs - or CHAMP - initiative supported by the Walmart Foundation to help city leaders increase participation in the federal Afterschool Meal Program. Like the summer nutrition programs, the Afterschool Meal Program reimburses out-of-school time providers that offer healthy foods to children and youth in low-income areas. 

Details: To read the report, visit www.frac.org. To find NLC resources or request assistance on strategies to reduce child hunger, visit Institute for Youth, Education & Families or contact Laura Fischer at (202) 626-3056 or fischer@nlc.org