Food insecurity and children’s health are connected
I can think of no more rewarding job than helping children in Montana grow, heal, and stay healthy. Even with the challenges of the past year, I feel privileged every day to work with other pediatricians, nurses and health care professionals caring for kids. As a pediatrician, I also understand that a child needs more than access to medical care to be healthy. The sad fact is that too many of the families we see across Montana are struggling to make ends meet, which means children can suffer from inadequate food and poor nutrition. This lack of consistent access to food can have significant short and long-term consequences for their health and well-being.
According to the Montana Food Bank Network, approximately one out of every five children in our state – 50,000 Montana kids – are likely to live in food insecure homes, a number that increased by an estimated 36% in 2020. For these children and their families, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides a critical lifeline against hunger’s worst consequences.
Food is foundational to health, and research has consistently shown that children in families that receive SNAP benefits experience more positive health outcomes when compared to similarly situated children who do not receive SNAP. Children born to women receiving SNAP are less likely to be underweight and in poor health. And children on SNAP are less likely to forego medical care, as their families are less likely to have to make tradeoffs between healthcare, food, and other necessities.
The positive impacts of SNAP go beyond these important health outcomes and have long-term implications for our entire state. Participation in SNAP helps Montana families keep food on the table, reducing stress and uncertainty for both parents and children. Secure access to food means kids can focus on learning and the critical development that happens through the carefree play of childhood. When kids have nourishment for their bodies and minds, and can focus on just being kids, it leads to better school performance, test scores and graduation rates.
With the Montana State Legislative Session underway, our legislators are making decisions that impact the health of our families and communities. I thank them for their service and call on them to remember the critical role that SNAP plays in the health and development of children living in food insecure homes, to support policies like Double SNAP Dollars that would increase access to nutritious, local foods and to oppose any bills that would reduce benefits or access to the program.
Dr. John Cole is President of the Montana Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. He lives in Kalispell.