Food impacts many aspects of life, and one of the most significant effects food (or lack thereof) has is on education.

Students who are inadequately fed don’t have the same learning capacity as those with a balanced and fruitful diet. In 2021, the USDA estimated that 10.2% of American students were “food insecure.” Plus, 3.8% (or 5.1 million households) experienced very low food security.

Brain Development

The first issue students deal with when facing food scarcity is that their brains don’t develop at optimal levels. Brain development begins soon after conception and determines a person’s functional ability, including social behavior, language development, decision-making skills, learning, and cognition.

A 2016 study shows that undernutrition, including calorie deprivation and poor dietary diversity, contributed to diminished brain growth over the first four years of life for children, while malnutrition in childhood can also affect a person in adult life.

“Children are not only not getting adequate calories, but they’re not getting adequate micronutrients,” she stated. “And these are … really important to development. If you don’t have them in your diet when you’re a baby, you’re not curious [and] you’re not exploring. And if you aren’t curious and exploring, you’re not learning,” Laurie C. Miller, a physician, professor, and researcher said.

“The long-term effects [of undernutrition] include problems with learning and school performance that can be quite significant, and even short episodes of malnutrition or undernutrition can result in very long-lasting effects,” Ms. Miller said.

On top of that, a lack of sustenance can perpetuate poverty.

Learning and productivity require a plethora of nutrients and micronutrients. Nutrients such as thiamin, zinc, riboflavin, iron, and vitamin B6. But the dietary diversity required to hit nutritional benchmarks can be difficult to achieve, especially in low and middle-income homes where money and other resources are scarce. It’s a vicious cycle that stunts the growth of communities in Texas, America, and worldwide.

Psychology & Focus

Facing poverty or lack of access to enough food can harm your psyche. Also, you won’t be able to focus since your brain doesn’t have the nutrients it needs to work at capacity.

“There is pretty solid evidence that children who are hungry are not able to focus, so they have a low attention span, behavioral issues, discipline issues in the school,” Sibylle Kranz, an associate professor of kinesiology and a registered dietitian nutritionist in the Curry School, said.

“Having children who are well-fed and not hungry makes a difference in their individual performance, and also how much they are contributing to or disrupting the classroom situation,” Ms. Kranz also says.

Economically Disadvantaged K-12 Students in Texas

Polling showed that most grades of D’s and F’s (75%) went to schools with higher rates of economically disadvantaged students than the state average. The same poll showed that 60.6% of students were economically disadvantaged.

On a positive note, more districts in Texas received A’s and B’s than in previous years. But higher-poverty districts are still overrepresented in the pool of lower-performing districts. Furthermore, 35.5% of Black people living in poverty in the U.S. are below the age of 18.