Healthy foods, healthy families, healthy brains

Sept. 13, 2018

We know as adults that the food we eat affects our health, and not just numbers on the scale. We also know that the first 1,000 days of life are crucial to a child’s brain development. But what’s the relationship between nutrition and brain development?

Research shows that nutrition is one of, if not the, most critical environmental influence on a developing infant and child. Beginning with the maternal diet during pregnancy, proper nutrition is crucial for healthy brain development. As Dr. Claire McCarthy writes on the Harvard Health Blog, “the ways that the brain develops during pregnancy and during the first two years of life are like scaffolding: they literally define how the brain will work for the rest of a person’s life. Nerves grow and connect and get covered with myelin, creating the systems that decide how a child — and the adult she becomes — thinks and feels. Those connections and changes affect sensory systems, learning, memory, attention, processing speed, the ability to control impulses and mood, and even the ability to multitask or plan.”

Nutrient-rich diets for both the mother (when pregnant or breastfeeding) and child promote normal brain development. While every family wants to be able to provide healthy and fresh food for their youngest members, many families in Kansas struggle with food insecurity. The National Kids Count Data Center shows that in 2015, 20 percent of Kansas children were living in households that were food insecure at some point during the year. That’s 144,000 Kansas children without a “consistent and dependable source of healthy food”. When children don’t have access to the nutrition their developing minds and bodies need, they are at greater risk for obesity and other long-term health problems. Hungry kids are also more likely to repeat a grade in elementary school, experience developmental impairments in areas such as language and motor skills, and have more social and behavioral problems.

Programs such as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (or SNAP, known as food stamps), and the Child and Adult Care Food Program, are important tools to fight food insecurity, and are critical to helping Kansas kids get the best start possible.

The federal government will soon begin work on the federal budget and finish negotiations for a new Farm Bill. As these ramp up, we need your help.

We’ve previously written about the harmful provisions included in the House version of the Farm Bill, which could result in 2 million struggling families losing food assistance. It is crucial that lawmakers reject the House’s harmful changes to the Farm Bill and instead support the bipartisan, responsible SNAP provisions of the Senate version of the bill. Cutting SNAP benefits will harm Kansans, especially children. SNAP participants in Kansas are more likely than the national average to be in families with children, families with members who are elderly or have disabilities, and in working families.

Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts is chairing the Farm Bill Conference Committee, and Kansas Rep. Roger Marshall is serving on the Farm Bill Conference Committee. Our Kansas federal delegation has an opportunity to stand up for Kansas kids and families by rejecting the proposed House SNAP provisions and supporting the bipartisan Senate version of the bill.

Imposing further limitations on SNAP benefits will harm Kansas kids and families. No child should go hungry. No family should wonder where the next meal is coming from. The brain development that happens in early childhood is the foundation for lifelong learning. But without proper nutrition, that development is stymied. Feeding America is organizing a Farm Bill call-in day on Sept. 13 – can we count on your participation?

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