Going hungry as a child means more than an empty belly — it also can spell trouble ahead for older teens and young adults.
Sharon Kukla-Acevedo, a faculty member in
political science and public administration at Central Michigan University, warns that adolescents who experience food insecurity may be at higher risk for earlier pregnancy and mental health challenges as they get older.
Kukla-Acevedo recently received a $15,000 grant to continue her research on the long-term effects of hunger on children ages 12-15. Children in that age range tend to experience food insecurity more acutely than other members of their families.
A cut in a program like SNAP today may cost much, much more in government spending in a decade or two." — Sharon Kukla-Acevedo, CMU faculty member
“This is a period of substantial change for children, with a massive amount of cognitive and emotional development. Going hungry has significant impact on them,” she said.
Her research is among the first to look at the impact of hunger on older children. She and her research partner used data from the
Panel Study of Income Dynamics to follow the life paths of children who experienced hunger during adolescence.
“What we found is that by the time they reach the ages of 18-25, they appear to be more likely to have negative mental health outcomes,” Kukla-Acevedo said. They are also more likely to have become parents earlier in life and to have had more children than their peers who did not go hungry.
These findings are particularly relevant today, as several states including Michigan consider cuts to food programs like the
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also called the food stamp program. Kukla-Acevedo notes that the cost to administer food assistance programs may be far less than paying for future treatment for mental health crises or support for very young families.
“Saving a dollar now may cost taxpayers in the long run,” she said. “When you make decisions about social safety net programs, you need a long-term frame of mind. A cut in a program like SNAP today may cost much, much more in government spending in a decade or two."