Summertime, and the Kids are Hungry

Author: Danielle L Cullen MD, MPH – Pediatric Emergency Medicine Fellow at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia

One in five children in the US do not get the food that they need on a daily basis to lead a healthy, active lifestyle. How is it that in a country of wealth and excess, children’s basic needs for life are not being met?

During the academic year, 21.5 million children receive and rely on free and reduced priced school breakfast and lunch as their primary source of nutrition. While summer should be a carefree time of outdoor play, with the absence of school food programs, it is instead too often a time of hunger. Federal Summer Nutrition Programs through the USDA provide meals to children during the summer months. Unfortunately, due to lack of awareness of these programs, they are severely underutilized. Only one in seven children who receive free or reduced-price school meals also participate in summer meal programs.(1)

As emergency medicine providers, we are at the frontline for impoverished and high-risk families.(2,3) We see the real-time evidence of childhood food insecurity: the infants who are failing to thrive because of watered-down formula, the headaches and stomachaches quickly cured by a sandwich, and the obesity related diabetes due to families’ inability to provide healthy food for their children. We educate families on the importance of appropriate formula mixing, breakfast, and healthy food choices, but without providing the means to obtain enough healthy food on a regular basis, our counseling is wasted.

This summer we can do something different. We can connect families with the programs that they need. If you suspect that your patients are struggling with hunger, ask about it, and find out about the resources available. You or your patient can text “Food” to 877-877 to find free summer meals in your area a help kids get the food that they need to play, grow, and return to school ready to learn.


1. Food Research and Action Center, Hunger Doesn’t Take a Vacation: Summer Nutrition Status Report 2016

2.  Hirshon JM, Morris DM. Emergency medicine and the health of the public: the critical role of emergency departments in US public health. Emerg Med Clin N Am. 2006;24(4):815–819.

3. Rodriguez RM, Fortman J, Chee C. Food, shelter and safety needs motivating homeless persons’ visits to an urban emergency department. Ann Emerg Med. 2009;53(5):598–602.

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