Welcome back to the End Child Hunger in AL (ECHA) blog! We hope this series on child hunger has been helpful for you & your understanding of the issue. This is part three of our series, so if you have not read part one & part two go check it out.
Why does it matter?
The effects of a food insecurity on a pregnant woman can begin having an impact on a child before it’s even born because of important nutrients not available for proper development of the baby. This can lead to low-weight births (5 ½ lbs and under) which can result in special health needs for the baby, preventable birth defects, birth complications for the mother, or even death for mom and/or baby.
A critical component to a healthy life is nutrition. Beginning with the pregnancy, the intake of vital nutrients is essential to the growth and development of a healthy baby.
During the first three years of a child’s life nearly 90% of brain development occurs. This is the time when developmental milestones take place as they discover their body (fingers and toes, what they can do), first steps, first words, learning to make relationships between words and objects, feelings and how care takers will respond to them when they communicate a need, short sentences to form communication.
When good nutrition is absent, particularly in the first three years of life, you begin to see that the implications on establishing and maintaining a good foundation can be severely impacted as it pertains to future physical and mental health, academic achievement, and economic productivity.
Food insecurity is an obstacle that threatens that critical foundation and becomes a toxic stress in a child’s life.
Toxic stress response can occur when a child experiences strong, frequent, and/or prolonged adversity—such as physical or emotional abuse, chronic neglect, caregiver substance abuse or mental illness, exposure to violence, and/or the accumulated burdens of family economic hardship such as food insecurity—without adequate adult support. This kind of prolonged activation of the stress response systems can disrupt the development of brain architecture and other organ systems, and increase the risk for stress-related disease and cognitive impairment, well into the adult years.
When toxic stress response occurs continually, or is triggered by multiple sources, it can have a cumulative toll on an individual’s physical and mental health—for a lifetime. The more adverse experiences in childhood (ACE), the greater the likelihood of developmental delays and later health problems, including heart disease, diabetes, substance abuse, and depression.
Research also indicates that supportive, responsive relationships with caring adults as early in life as possible can prevent or reverse the damaging effects of toxic stress response.
Identifying and reversing toxic stress is so important that in 2012, the American Academy of Pediatrics published a policy statement on the role of the pediatrician in addressing toxic stress, and now is creating detailed recommendations on how to implement prevention, screening, and treatment in clinical practice.
*Information for this post provided by VOICES for Alabama’s Children. *