The number of afterschool meals served to students in the US is slowly increasing, but nutrition advocates say it’s not enough.
More than 1.3 million children in the US benefited from afterschool meals at school and community-based programs in October 2018 alone, according to a new report released by the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC) on Wednesday.
The report, “Afterschool Suppers: A Snapshot of Participation,” also showed that the number of students who received afterschool dinners increased by 10.4% from the previous year.
“We know that poor nutrition can lead to poor academic and health outcomes for children,” Jim Weill, president of FRAC, said in a news release.
The report analyzes participation in the Afterschool Nutrition Programs –– programs that helps schools in low-income areas serve meals and snacks to children 18 and under after school, on weekends, and during school holidays. For parents who struggle to keep jobs, work long or nontraditional hours, or commute from long distances, the program ensures their children receive proper nutrition.
“The federally funded Afterschool Supper Program reduces hunger and draws children into enrichment programs that keep them active and engaged,” Weill said.
One child received an afterschool dinner for every 16 low-income children who participated in the National School Lunch Program in October 2018, according to the report.
✨ NEW: 1.3 million children received an afterschool supper in October 2018 – a 10.4% increase from October 2017. Learn more on recent afterschool nutrition trends in our newest #AfterschoolMeals report: https://t.co/OeyVa0kS8opic.twitter.com/KW4WtgkfoR— Food Research & Action Center (@fractweets) October 23, 2019
Some states saw higher participation in afterschool dinners than others. The District of Columbia, for instance, provided 22 low-income children with an afterschool dinner for every 100 who received school lunch, exceeding FRAC’s goal for states to serve dinner to at least 15 children for every 100 who received free or reduced-price school lunch. California came close to reaching FRAC’s goal and served 14 students dinner for every 100 who received free or reduced-price school lunch. Vermont wasn’t far behind with 11 students for every 100.
Kansas, Maine, Mississippi, and North Dakota all increased the number of children participating in dinner by more than 50% in October 2018, compared to the previous year.
Hunger disproportionately affects low-income families and more than 11 million children in the US live in “food insecure” homes, where families don’t have enough food for every family member to be able to lead a healthy life.
Despite the benefits of afterschool meals –– school-aged children have a higher daily intake of fruits, vegetables, milk, and key nutrients on days that they eat afterschool meals compared to days they do not –– funding for afterschool meals in the US is fairly new. Afterschool meals first became available nationally through the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010.
The report highlights that afterschool meal programs don’t receive enough funding partly because there are not enough programs in the first place.
Even when afterschool programs are available, many low-income families cannot afford to participate, and access to afterschool programs is especially limited in rural areas where families are more likely to experience food insecurity, according to the repot.
Healthy afterschool dinners ensure that children get the nutrition they need to participate in programs that help them discover new skills and interests, according to nonprofit organization Afterschool Alliance.
Around every five years, Congress reviews and updates laws that govern all child nutrition processes as part of child nutrition reauthorization, and Congress is currently overdue to pass new legislation. The current reauthorization process presents an opportunity for Congress to streamline eligibility requirements to allow more children to receive afterschool meals, according to FRAC.
More public and private funding for afterschool programs would also make it possible to provide enough meals to students who need them.