Education and Food Insecurity in Philadelphia
Updated: Nov 13
Food insecurity, which has been defined by the US Department of Agriculture as “household-level economic and social condition of limited or uncertain access to adequate food” impacts over 250,000 people in Philadelphia (1). Approximately 31% of children in Philadelphia experienced food insecurity in 2020. While food insecurity and lack of access to nutritional food sources is a multifaceted socio-economic issue, it has been well understood to negatively impact young children in school. Food insecurity is increasingly considered a critical public health issue, driven by rates of unemployment, poverty, and inadequate access to food sources (2, 3). This food inequity disproportionately impacts Hispanic and Black families. In 2020, Black non-Hispanic households were over twice as likely to face food insecurity than the national average - 21.7% compared to the national 10.5% (2, 4). Clinical psychologists have stated that hunger significantly impacts children’s ability to focus in school and gain from what should be a nurturing learning environment. Adequate nutrition is critical for growth and development during childhood, particularly among children less than 4 years of age (6). While research is still emerging on the link between food insecurity and adverse health outcomes, there is an increasing need for programs to eliminate food insecurity.
Drexel University's Center for Hunger-Free Communities has been actively researching and advocating for the communities of Philadelphia that are most disproportionately impacted by food insecurity (4, 5). Local organizations work at the community level to provide families with healthy food products. Many organizations throughout Philadelphia and its suburbs are working to combat these issues. Children’s Playhouse works to provide meals to over 250 children at various levels of their education (7). Their centers also have a social worker to provide direct support for their families. Philabundance is another organization that works to reduce food waste and increase access to nutritional meals (8). I have personally volunteered with an organization based in Clementon, New Jersey, a suburb of Philadelphia that is particularly impacted by food insecurity. The Friends of Clementon provides meal boxes to families on Wednesday afternoons. Their client-focused model allows community members to feel a sense of autonomy as they pick specific fresh produce and self-care items (9). These groups, and many others, are working to combat food insecurity in and around Philadelphia.
Although the Philadelphia Department of Agriculture has determined some causes for food insecurity, it is pertinent to address them through local organizations that actively work to provide support for those affected (5). The COVID-19 pandemic further heightened food insecurity and shed light on the shortcomings of federal and state programs. Therefore, to improve the educational outcomes for young children, it is critical to provide access to nutritional and fresh food items.
For additional resources, please refer to the RISE Philadelphia community resources page:
Author: Minjal Patel
Medical Student, Rowan-Virtua School of Osteopathic Medicine
Definitions of Food Security. USDA ERS - Definitions of Food Security. Accessed November 5, 2023. https://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/food-nutrition-assistance/food-security-in-the-u-s/definitions-of-food-security/#:~:text=Food%20insecurity%E2%80%94the%20condition%20assessed,may%20result%20from%20food%20insecurity.
USDA. USDA ERS - Key Statistics & Graphics. www.ers.usda.gov. Published June 20, 2023. https://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/food-nutrition-assistance/food-security-in-the-u-s/key-statistics-graphics/
Campanera M, Gasull M, Gracia-Arnaiz M. Food Security as a Social Determinant of Health: Tackling Inequalities in Primary Health Care in Spain. Health and human rights. 2023;25(1):9-21. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9973507/
Even Very Low Levels of Food Insecurity Found to Harm Children’s Health. Center for Hunger Free Communities. 2020 Cited 2021 Dec 21. Available from:https://drexel.edu/hunger-free-center/research/briefs-and-reports/even-very-low-levels-of-food-insecurity/.
About food insecurity. Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. Accessed November 1, 2023. https://www.agriculture.pa.gov/Food_Security/Pages/About-Food-Insecurity.aspx.
Chloe R. Drennen, Sharon M. Coleman, Stephanie Ettinger de Cuba, Deborah A. Frank, Mariana Chilton, John T. Cook, Diana B. Cutts, Timothy Heeren, Patrick H. Casey, Maureen M. Black; Food Insecurity, Health, and Development in Children Under Age Four Years. Pediatrics October 2019; 144 (4): e20190824. 10.1542/peds.2019-0824
Savage H. What is food insecurity? how philly navigates hunger, food deserts, and access to good food. https://www.inquirer.com. August 8, 2022. Accessed November 1, 2023. https://www.inquirer.com/philly-tips/philadelphia-food-insecurity-resources.html.
Leading the fight against hunger. Philabundance. August 11, 2023. Accessed November 1, 2023. https://www.philabundance.org/.
Friends of Clementon Food Pantry. Friends of Clementon. Accessed November 1, 2023. https://www.friendsofclementonfoodpantry.com/.