Roosevelt Institute | Cornell University

Reaching Out to Teens to Help Stop Hunger

By Holly GracePublished September 29, 2016

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No Kid Hungry, the BackPack Program, and Feed the Children are just a few of the numerous programs that have been created in recent years to end child hunger. With 1 in 6 children in the United States facing hunger, it is nationally recognized that children from impoverished families should be given nutritious food to help with their growth and development.
No Kid Hungry, the BackPack Program, and Feed the Children are just a few of the numerous programs that have been created in recent years to end child hunger. With 1 in 6 children in the United States facing hunger, it is nationally recognized that children from impoverished families should be given nutritious food to help with their growth and development. Hunger increases chance of illness, infection, as well as likelihood of obesity.  School systems have implemented many programs, such as sending kids home with backpacks full of healthy food and subsidizing meals during the day for students who qualify. What many regions are just starting to realize, however, is that they are failing to reach a large portion of students struggling with hunger: teenagers.

Teenagers, ages 10 to 17, are much more difficult to stop from going hungry.  One major reason that programs such as the BackPack Program are not suitable for teenagers is because of stigmas and wanting to fit in. Instead of standing out and asking for help, teenagers often look for other ways to find food. Many teens also try to help their parents by saving some of their food for their siblings. This leads to portions that are too small for them. Past initiatives to help feed teenagers have often overlooked these major differences between children and teens, leading to this group of students continuing to go hungry.
Approximately 6.8 million teens are struggling to find enough to eat in the United States. Recent studies by the Urban Institute and Feeding America show that teens often resort to methods other than asking for school or state support with food insecurity. While some teens rely on visiting friends or neighbors for more food, others try tactics such as shoplifting, robbing stores, or using sex to get food.

Many of the teenagers who were consulted during these studies provided possible solutions to decrease the amount of teenagers who struggle with hunger. One way to approach the issue is through accessibility.
"Many people in Atlanta have to take a bus or train to reach a grocery store with fresh produce and can't afford the time or fare, to say nothing of lugging the groceries home." Many ‘food deserts' exist, where low-income neighborhoods lack grocery stores, forcing residents to travel to get food for their families. Providing grocery stores in low-income areas would greatly enable residents in these areas to access food more easily.


A second strategy to help reach these teenagers would be to
provide free food with an activity that does not have a negative stigma. This could be done through sporting events or other community events. Many teenagers are worried about standing out from everyone else by admitting to being food-insecure. If they are able to hide this insecurity by connecting the food to an event, then the stigma is gone and they feel more comfortable receiving the food.


Acknowledging that there is a large age group that has not been receiving the necessary support to reduce hunger is a large step forward. While it is certainly more difficult to provide food assistance to teenagers than to children, progress can begin to be made now that the problem has been recognized. By reducing the stigma around receiving food and improving the accessibility in low-income neighborhoods, hopefully fewer teens will go hungry.