Urban Institute and Feeding America recently released reports here and here about hunger among teenagers in the U.S.A. Teens who suffer from food insecurity (they’re hungry, in other words) must resort to drastic measures — sex, drugs, crime — in order to get through the day.
Here are some takeaways:
Teen food insecurity is widespread. Even in focus groups where participants were not food insecure, teens were aware of classmates and neighbors who regularly did not have enough to eat.
Teens fear stigma around hunger and actively hide it. Consequently, many teens refuse to accept food or assistance in public settings or from people outside a trusted circle of friends and family.
Food-insecure teens strategize about how to ease their hunger and make food last longer for the whole family., Some go over to friends’ or relatives’ houses to eat. Some save their school lunch for the weekend.
Parents try to protect teens from hunger and from bearing responsibility for providing for themselves or others. However, teens in food-insecure families routinely take on this role, going hungry so younger siblings can eat or finding ways to bring in food and money.
Teens overwhelmingly prefer to earn money through a formal job, but their job prospects are limited, particularly in high-poverty communities. And often, teens can’t make enough money to make a dent in family food insecurity.
When faced with acute food insecurity, teens in all but two of the communities said that youth engage in criminal behavior, ranging from shoplifting food directly to selling drugs and stealing items to resell for cash. These behaviors were most common among young men in communities with the most limited job options.
Teens in all 10 communities and in 13 of the 20 focus groups talked about some youth selling sex for money to pay for food. These themes arose most strongly in high-poverty communities where teens also described sexually coercive environments. Sexual exploitation most commonly took the form of transactional dating relationships with older adults.
In a few communities, teens talked about going to jail or failing school (so they could attend summer classes and get school lunch) as viable strategies for ensuring regular meals.
And thanks, Leftover, and Kimberley, for the links.