ITHACA, N.Y. -- Hunger and poverty in the United States are severe enough to significantly impair the academic and psychosocial development of school-age children and adolescents, according to two studies at Cornell University.
"The level of food deprivation in this wealthy nation puts millions of children at risk for multiple developmental problems," says Katherine Alaimo, who obtained her Ph.D. at Cornell in 2000 and now is a community health scholar at the University of Michigan. Alaimo conducted the studies for her doctoral dissertation, using data from the National Center for Health Statistics, with Cornell nutritional sciences Professor Christine Olson and Associate Professor Edward Frongillo. One study looks at how hunger is linked to depression and suicide attempts among adolescents. The other links hunger with the cognitive, academic and psychosocial development of school-age children.
The Cornell researchers found that young people, ages 15 to 16, in homes where there is not always enough to eat, are five times more likely to attempt suicide, compared with well-fed adolescents. They also are four times more likely to suffer from chronic, low-grade depression (dysthymia), which is a high-risk factor for major depression, are almost twice as likely to have been suspended from school, and have more problems getting along with their peers.
Young people, ages 6 to 11, who live in food in families without enough food are twice as likely to have seen a psychologist, 1.4 times more likely to have repeated a grade and to have significantly lower math scores.
All of these outcomes of hunger emerged after the Cornell researchers controlled for almost two dozen factors that could influence developmental outcomes, including poverty levels, ethnicity, parental education and employment status, and fetal exposure to smoking.
The Cornell researchers report that one in five American children live in poverty, the highest level of childhood pove
Contact: Susan S. Lang
Cornell University News Service