Food Security: Policies and Programs to Support NC Family Health

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Child food insecurity is an influential social determinant and one of the most significant issues facing the state of North Carolina, with nearly one in six children experiencing some form of hunger or malnutrition. Malnutrition, undernutrition and inconsistent access to nutritious food during childhood can lead to numerous poor developmental outcomes, such as greater vulnerability to illness and physical impairments, delays in development and stunted growth, decreased learning ability, lower levels of attention and increased behavior problems, compromised emotional development, a higher frequency of school absence, and lower academic performance in primary school. Due to long-standing racial discrimination in education, employment, and housing, Black, Latinx, and Native American households are at an increased risk of facing food insecurity.

In fact, food security is Goal 3 of the NC Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) Early Childhood Action Plan 2025 Goals. By 2025, NCDHHS aims to decrease the percentage of children living across North Carolina in food insecure homes from 20.9 percent to 17.5 percent according to data provided by Feeding America.

Fresh produce is a central part of the recommended food pyramid but it is often a luxury for those in food insecure households. National Farmers Market Week, now in its 24th year, is an excellent opportunity to think about how supplemental food programs can increase low-income families’ access to fresh foods

National Farmers Market Week, taking place August 6-12 this year, is an annual celebration that highlights the vital role farmers markets play in our nation’s food system. With fun events, programs, contests, activities, and more, the week helps to boost market attendance and visibility, and is a great opportunity to showcase how much value markets bring to their communities.

There are ways policymakers can design policies and programs that enable low-income residents to access farmers markets and ensure their nutritional needs are met.

Food Security Policies in Play

The reauthorization of the Farm Bill this year offers an urgent opportunity to strengthen food and nutrition security for children through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and many other nutrition programs. Childhood nutrition is a key determination for lifelong health, making the Farm Bill a critical opportunity to amplify the voices of children and protect their  health. More than 14 million children nationally rely on SNAP for consistent, healthy meals. Children living in food insecure households are 25 percent more likely to end up in the emergency room than their food-secure peers. The Farm Bill is a children’s health bill and the investments we make in SNAP now will reduce the risk of children developing lifelong, chronic conditions and help them grow into healthy, productive adults. SNAP participation improves food security, health, educational, and long-term economic outcomes for children.

Most of the Farm Bill’s funding – 84 percent, actually – is dedicated to nutrition, making it a crucial opportunity to invest in the health and well-being of America’s children. Children’s nutrition is directly linked with healthy development. A healthy diet reduces a child’s risk of obesity, diabetes, and developing chronic conditions like heart disease, tooth decay, high blood pressure, and cancer later in life. 

As the nation’s largest federal food assistance program, SNAP is the first line of defense against hunger for poor and low-income children. Nearly 90% of SNAP participants are in households that contain a child under age 18, and nearly half of all program participants are children.

The Farm Bill allocates funds for nutrition and SNAP, and therefore has the power to lift hundreds of thousands of children out of poverty and improve their health outcomes.

Recently, we explored the minimum wage, equal pay days and how early childhood care and education professionals are not compensated for the worth of the work they do. As we wrote last month, improving the child care system would make a long-lasting impact on North Carolina’s economic future and stability. Despite their essential role, child care teachers remain woefully underpaid and undervalued for the critically important work they do

And, sadly, ⅓ of child care providers rely on SNAP for meals.

Nutrition Programs Supporting Families Experiencing Food Insecurity

Many grocery stores and farmers markets do accept SNAP/EBT, also known as food stamps, so that lower income families can take advantage of the fresh produce and farm offerings. These resource materials, from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, provide the names and locations of farmers’ markets that were authorized to accept SNAP benefits during particular months.

"I am a grandma raising grandkids and I'm on partial disability. I have been jointly raising four of my grandkids for over 8 years now. If it weren't for receiving both SNAP and Medicaid for those grandkids we couldn't survive and with rising food costs it's getting worse." -- Marybeth, Canton, NC
Graphic Courtesy MomsRising

Dashboard Explores NC Data Behind Food Security

The Pathways Data Dashboard, provides statewide data illustrating indicators that align with Action areas on the Pathways Action Map, disaggregated by race and ethnicity. Take a look at the Dashboard to explore data around the percentage of children experiencing food insecurity and how this differs across race, as well, in counties across North Carolina.

Keep in Touch with NCECF and Support Our Work

Visit the info page to learn more about the Pathways Action Map and consider adding your work! Share it with others in your network and community, whose work you think should be spotlighted. We want to utilize the Map as a resource to build awareness of innovation, make connections, and identify gaps and opportunities that can help guide policy making, advocacy, funding, and capacity building.

If you have any questions, or would like a guided tour of the Map, please contact us. We’d love to hear your ideas on how to continue to utilize this tool to support the success of all North Carolina children.

Please be sure to subscribe to our biweekly newsletter and consider making a donation today to continue a strong 2023 by helping us transform the lives of North Carolina families, from their earliest days, while also supporting a small growing, family-friendly team. 

The NC Early Childhood Foundation is driven by a bold – and achievable – vision: Each North Carolina child has a strong foundation for life-long health, education, and well-being supported by a comprehensive, equitable birth-to-eight ecosystem. We build understanding, lead collaboration, and advance policies to ensure each North Carolina child is on track for lifelong success by the end of third grade.