Survey: Three Out Of Five U.S. Teachers See Hunger In Classroom
As students across the country prepare to go back to school this fall, millions of American families are still feeling the sting of unemployment, rising food and fuel prices and a sluggish economic recovery. Teachers are first-hand witnesses to the toll hunger takes on America’s students. According to a new survey released today by Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign, teachers are worried that hunger is stunting the learning process. They also point to a healthy school breakfast as key to a good education.
The survey, “Hunger In Our Schools: Share Our Strength’s Teachers Report 2012,” was conducted among more than 1,000 K-8 public school teachers nationwide. Three out of five teachers surveyed report that they see students regularly come to school hungry because they’re not getting enough to eat at home. A majority of these teachers who witness hunger say the problem is getting worse.
“I have had students who have come to school with lunch the previous day having been their last meal,” one elementary teacher from the Northeast reported. Another teacher from the Midwest said, “The saddest are the children who cry when we get out early for a snow day because they won’t get lunch.”
Overwhelmingly, teachers say students have trouble learning when they’re focused on their empty stomachs. Hungry students, they say, lack concentration and struggle with poor academic performance, behavior problems and health issues.
“When students are hungry and distracted, they’re not learning,” said U.S. Secretary of the Department of Education Arne Duncan who joined Share Our Strength at a panel discussion in Hyattsville, Md. to release the survey findings. “To set kids up for academic success, we must make sure they’re getting the healthy food they need at breakfast and lunch so they can concentrate in the classroom throughout the day.”
School meals play an important role in making sure that, even in tough times, kids still get the healthy food they need. Nine out of 10 teachers agree that school breakfast is especially important for academic achievement. Teachers credit breakfast with increased concentration (95%), better academic performance (89%) and better behavior in the classroom (73%). Health is also a major factor, with four in five saying breakfast prevents head and stomachaches, leading to healthier students. Teachers also say that students who eat breakfast are less likely to be tardy or absent (56%).
“No child’s health should be compromised because they haven’t had enough to eat,” said U.S. Department of Agriculture Deputy Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services Janey Thornton. “USDA school nutrition programs – such as the school breakfast and school lunch programs – help ensure our children start their day with a nutritious meal, so they can learn, grow, and reach their full potential. This year, I am proud to announce that school meals are even healthier thanks to historic improvements made through the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act.”
Yet too many eligible kids are missing out on school breakfast. Of the 20 million low-income students who ate a free or reduced-price lunch last year, fewer than half also ate school breakfast. The No Kid Hungry campaign helps get nutritious food to kids in need, working with schools and communities to increase participation in the national School Breakfast Program.
“Access to healthy food is the number one school supply students need to succeed in the classroom this fall,” said Tom Nelson, President of Share Our Strength. “Kids can’t concentrate on reading and math when they’re focused on their growling stomachs. If we want our youngest generation to grow up smarter, healthier and stronger, we need to make sure they get the healthy food they need every day.”
“Hunger In Our Schools: Share Our Strength’s Teachers Report 2012” was made possible by C&S Wholesale Grocers. “Stories from teachers across the country about kids experiencing hunger are real, compelling and are all-too commonplace. The third edition of this report provides important data behind the anecdotes,” said Gina Goff from C&S Wholesale Grocers. “We know that the report is a key part of the No Kid Hungry campaign and that it will jumpstart conversations about solutions to ending childhood hunger.”
Key findings from the research include the following:
- Childhood Hunger Remains A Serious Issue. Three out of five teachers say kids in their classrooms regularly come to school hungry. Among those teachers, 80% say these kids come to school hungry at least once a week. Three out of four teachers (77%) say addressing childhood hunger must be a national priority.
- The Problem Is Growing. A majority of teachers (56%) who witness childhood hunger say the problem is getting worse.
- School Meals Are A Critical Safety Net. In the survey, a majority of teachers (56%) say “a lot” or “most” of their students rely on school meals as their primary source of nutrition.
- Teachers Are Taking Action. Most commonly, teachers assist families in enrolling in school meal programs (71%), refer families to resources in the school (54%) and spend money out of their own pockets to buy food for hungry students (53%). On average, teachers who buy food for hungry kids in their classrooms spend on average $26 a month.
- Teachers Say: Breakfast Works. Nine out of 10 teachers say breakfast is very important for academic achievement. Teachers credit breakfast with increased concentration (95%), better academic performance (89%) and better behavior in the classroom (73%). Health is also a major factor, with eight in ten saying breakfast prevents head and stomachaches, leading to healthier students. Teachers also say that, thanks to breakfast, students are less likely to be tardy or absent (56%).
- Too Many Kids Miss Out On Breakfast: Teachers site timing and stigma as two barriers to participation. Some kids miss out on the meals because of they get to school too late to eat (74%). Others are embarrassed and don’t want to be singled out as the low-income kids eating in the cafeteria (33%). Teachers say that sometimes the problem simply is that parents aren’t aware the program exists (35%).
- Childhood Hunger Is Solvable: The most popular solution was to increase communication with parents about the school meals that are available (75%). Other ideas include reducing the red tape that limits participation (61%) and decreasing stigma by making free breakfast available to all students, not just those with low incomes (58%).
The survey is available at www.NoKidHungry.org/teachers.
Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry Campaign
More than 16 million children in America struggle with hunger. Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry® campaign is ending childhood hunger by connecting kids to the healthy food they need, every day. No Kid Hungry helps get nutritious food to kids in need and teaches families how to cook healthy, affordable meals. The campaign brings together governors, mayors, businesses, chefs, federal and state agencies, educators and community leaders to connect children at risk of hunger with food and nutrition programs where they live, learn and play. No Kid Hungry also teaches families how to cook healthy, affordable meals through Cooking Matters® and invests in community organizations that fight hunger. Get involved at NoKidHungry.org.
Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign is nationally supported by Share Our Strength’s Core Partners: the ConAgra Food Foundation, Food Network and Walmart, and by our No Kid Hungry Partners: American Express, Arby’s Foundation, Birds Eye, C&S Wholesale Grocers, The Capital Grille, Cavit, CGI Group Inc., Clear Channel, Corner Bakery Cafe, Deloitte LLP, Denny’s, Domino Sugar and C&H Sugar, Duncan Hines, Family Circle, Fleischmann’s Yeast, Hickory Farms, Hillshire Farm, Jimmy Dean, Joe’s Crab Shack, Karo, The Land of Nod, Le Creuset, National Restaurant Association, NBA Cares, One Hope Wine, OpenTable, Romano’s Macaroni Grill, SCA, Sodexo Foundation, Stephen Joseph, Sysco, Tastefully Simple, Ted’s Montana Grill, Weight Watchers, Whole Foods Market and Williams-Sonoma.
C&S Wholesale Grocers
C&S community involvement programs support initiatives to stop hunger and to promote the health and enrichment of communities that are homes to the company's employees and facilities. C&S Wholesale Grocers of Keene, N.H. is the largest food wholesaler and according to Forbes magazine, the 9th largest privately held company in the United States. The company distributes food to supermarkets, retail stores and military bases across the country. Currently, C&S serves about 3,900 stores from more than 50 locations in 12 states. Among our customers are many of America's best known companies, including Stop & Shop, Giant of Carlisle, Giant of Landover, Shaw's, Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co. (A&P), Ralphs, Safeway and Target.