How Hunger Impacts a Child’s Physical Health

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SPRINGFIELD —As school starts back in Springfield this week, many kids will be going to class with an empty stomach. Hunger not only affects their abilitiy to learn, but also has numerous physical impacts.

According to Ozarks Food Harvest, one out of five children in the Ozarks is food insecure, meaning they don’t know when they’ll eat again.

“It’s an every day thing that we see to the point that we now screen our high risk families for food insecurity,” Dr. Matthew Stinson said.

Dr. Matthew Stinson is the Vice President of Behavior Health at Jordan Valley Community Health Center in Springfield. He said food insecurity is changing the medicine field.

“The challenge really is, it’s not something we were really taught to deal with in school,” Dr. Stinson explained. “So the things that we think about now, which are poverty education, housing, food, are things that really have been relegated to the social work kind of side. Now that we have learned all of the effects that it has on every day health, and even how poor nutrition can affect asthma, and affect frequent ER visits, it’s found its way into the medical primary care world.”

Public health nurses, like Rinda Dunn with the Springfield-Greene County Health Department, are also seeing their fair share of hungry kids. Dunn said poor eating habits contribute to both short and long term health problems.

“Tending to lean toward other types of food that don’t have the same nutritional value, which can impact growth and development, which can then impact readiness and prepardness toward school and be ready to learn and properly nurished in that environment,” Nurse Dunn explained.

Physically, kids lose weight and don’t grow at a normal rate when they’re malnurished. Hunger also slows brain development and can cause learning disabilities. It can cause behavioral problems at school; including ADHD and hyperactivity. It could have the opposite effect and cause lethargy or depression. Lack of proper nutrition can even effect oral health. All symptoms that will follow them into their adult lives.

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