Young people can learn and thrive when they are fed and have access to healthy and nutritious foods. However, in Virginia, one in ten children are considered food insecure and may face hunger. Children are considered food insecure when their households experience limited or uncertain availability of safe, nutritious food at some point during the year.
Generating food security means ensuring all people have access to enough fresh, healthy, and affordable food. Depending on where a child, family, or community member lives, works, or attends school, they may not have access to fresh and nutritious food at all. Contributing factors include the proximity to grocery stores in rural or urban areas, limited access to transportation, and the quality of the food within reach to families. As a result, diet-related illnesses, especially among children and youth, are on the rise. Access to nutrition is preventative health care and is needed to promote long-term healthier outcomes. Equitable access to health and wellness includes the elimination of barriers that exist where children live.
Significant efforts to improve food security have been in place during the pandemic—such as expanded SNAP benefits, Pandemic EBT, and universal school meals. The pandemic demonstrated that when it comes to ensuring young people have access to nutritious, healthy, and culturally appropriate food, there are programs that work. Policy solutions must include increasing economic access to nutritious, healthy, and culturally appropriate foods by investing in retail infrastructure and initiatives to combat areas of food insecurity.
Health care, food access, affordable housing, and economic security are closely linked as “social determinants of health.” These social determinants, often established by the policies and systems in a community, factor into a child’s overall well-being and that of their caregivers. To promote well-being, we consider all of these policies and systems to be critical and interwoven.
- Continue to ensure all low-income families have access to school meals at no cost.
- Reduce diet-related chronic illnesses through the Produce Rx Program so Virginia’s medical professionals can prescribe fresh fruit and vegetables to improve health outcomes, reduce food insecurity, and decrease long-term health care costs.
- Support local farmers markets, mobile markets, and community retailers to improve access to nutritious food, increase consumer purchasing power, and build community wealth.
Voices is a member of the Virginia Food Access Coalition (VFAC).