From Johns Hopkins University, an alarming finger about hunger and poverty in the United States:
In very poor families, teenagers are going hungry twice as often as their younger siblings, a new Johns Hopkins University study finds.
Parents first forgo food themselves, skipping meals to feed their children. But if there still isn’t enough for everyone, the study found parents will feed younger children before teenagers, regularly leaving the older kids—teen boys in particular—without enough to eat.
“If you’re really poor, you try to sacrifice yourself first, but when you’re forced to make some choices, these parents are deciding to let the teens not have enough—if they have to give up on something, they’re giving up on teenagers,” said JHU economist Robert Moffitt, the lead author. “It’s hard to imagine parents having to do that.”
The study, which is the first to demonstrate how children’s food deprivation can differ by age and gender, even within the same household, is published as a working paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research [$5 to read].
Moffitt and co-author David C. Ribar of the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research analyzed a survey of about 1,500 extremely disadvantaged families in Boston, Chicago, and San Antonio. The survey asked parents, along with one of their children, about missing meals, checking in with them several times over six years, from 1999 to 2005.
The families had incomes well below the federal poverty line, making an average of about $1,558 a month, or $18,696 a year. Most were headed by single parents, unemployed, on welfare, and not college-educated. Most were minorities and raising children in rental homes.
Questions for the parents included:
- At any time in the past 12 months, did you or other adults in your household cut the size of your meals or skip meals because there wasn’t enough money for food?
- At any time in the past 12 months, did you or any other adults in your household not eat for a whole day because there wasn’t enough money for food?
- In the past 12 months, were you ever hungry but didn’t eat because you couldn’t afford food?
- Sometimes people lose weight because they don’t have enough to eat. In the past 12 months, did you lose weight because there wasn’t enough food?
In these disadvantaged families, researchers found 12 percent of the adults suffered from extreme food hardship, answering “yes” to several of these questions. At the same time, about 4 percent of the children went hungry.