The COVID-19 pandemic started more than a year ago. From job loss to evictions to school closures, the pandemic has wreaked havoc for families across the U.S. For many children in Louisiana, this reality is stark.
A new study from Save the Children ranks Louisiana as the worst state for children during the COVID-19 pandemic. The results are based on three measures of hardship that make it difficult for children to reach their full potential: food scarcity, lack of access to tools for remote learning, and difficulty of families to pay for their household expenses.
Food insecurity is the most significant indicator in the ranking. Food insecure children have a hard time learning because they often have less energy, are more easily distracted, and are less interested in school work. Paired with a lack of tools for remote learning and financial stress, these children face significant challenges trying to keep up in school.
Remote learning and school closures have worsened food insecurity. Millions of families across the nation, especially in Louisiana, rely on school meals as the source of nutrition for their children. With school closures disrupting these meals, students are feeling the brunt of the impact. Previously, 1-in-4 children experience food insecurity in Louisiana. Since the pandemic started, that number has grown to 1-in-3 children.
These disruptions also have a critical impact on a family’s emotional health. In Louisiana, 81% of parents and caregivers exhibited symptoms of anxiety, likely due to financial stress throughout the pandemic. Parental emotional well-being has a significant effect on child development, like school performance and physical health. When a parent is anxious or stressed about grocery expenses or a lack of food, it can make their kids feel anxious and stressed as well. These emotions have lasting negative effects on children including behavior problems, worsening grades, and a risk to develop chronic diseases in their future.
Food insecurity has lasting impacts on children throughout their lives. The pandemic didn’t cause poor food access or food insecurity amongst children, but intensified their impact and brought these problems to the forefront of many families' minds. The emergency food system and anti-hunger advocates across the country have been working for years to close the childhood meal gap, but the pandemic has grown this need to an unprecedented level.
Advocacy and charitable food alone are not enough to serve this overwhelming need for assistance. Federal programs like SNAP, WIC, and TEFAP are proven to be the most effective methods in combating food insecurity for millions of children. While the pandemic is coming to a slow close, the economic impacts will be felt in Louisiana for years. Now more than ever it is important to make real investments in anti-hunger programs.