Silent Voices of the Hungry

Gwenyth Mercep ’22

Figure 1: Children’s accounts of food insecurity often go unnoticed in families

About one in five US households with children experience food insecurity [1]. Food-insecure families may employ protective strategies to deflect collective hardships on children and national data suggests that in general, adults believe they are very successful in doing so [1]. Only 1% of these parents reported their children to experience a reduction in nutritional quality or quantity [1]. Contrarily, data shows food insecurity is uniquely detrimental for children, who perceive the experience differently than adults and display a higher tendency to internalize and take responsibility for family food constraints [1]. Furthermore, one study showed that parents reported children experiencing hunger only about half the time that children themselves reported it [1]. Frongillo et al set out to address, “How concordant and discordant were adults’ and children’s knowledge, understanding, and description of children’s experience of food insecurity?”, and “What explained differences in concordance between adults’ and children’s reports of children’s experience of food insecurity?” [1]

The study included a total of sixteen Hispanic families at risk of food insecurity in South Carolina [1]. Families were recruited through several nutrition services and in-depth interviews were conducted with both caregivers and one child between the age of 9 and 16 [1]. The interview included three screening parameters of child awareness of food insecurity (cognitive, emotional, and physical) and three screening parameters of children assuming responsibility (participating in adult strategies, initiating own strategies, and generating resources) [1]. The children and adults were interviewed separately with questions surrounding household food norms [1]. Significantly, all 16 children experienced cognitive awareness of food insecurity while only 11 of the families had adults who knew about their awareness [1]. In total, across the 6 screening parameters, including 47 instances of children’s reported experiences with food insecurity, adults reported knowing about only 19 of them (40.4%) [1].

Adults on average knew of only two-fifths of their children’s disadvantageous experiences [1]. Three explanations emerged from the research surrounding adult incognizance [1]. Frongillo et al noted children observed signs of food insecurity despite adult’s attempts to be discreet, children intentionally did not share their struggles or actions with adults to bypass additional family stress, and adults and children interpreted their food insecurity in different contexts [1]. In concordant instances, promoting an open line of communication surrounding the household relationship with food aided in overall consensus and allowed families to manage hardship cooperatively [1]. The issue of food-insecurity cannot be appropriated averted until all voices are included and considered in the discourse. Future studies should incorporate children’s self-reporting measures which prove to be substantially more accurate than adult reports of children’s adverse experiences. 

#children #families #hungry

[1] E.Frongillo, et al., “Concordance and Discordance of the Knowledge, Understanding, and Description of Children’s Experience of Food Insecurity Among Hispanic Adults and Children”, Family & Community Health 42, 237-244 (2019). Doi: 10.1097/FCH.0000000000000237

[2] Image retrieved from:

[2] Image retrieved from:

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