Both anecdotally and scientifically, it is common knowledge that hunger impedes a vast majority of proper bodily functions. How often have you experienced difficulty completing a task because you didn’t have time for a meal or became irritable when you had to postpone sitting down to eat? Think of it through the lens of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, only once hunger, one of the base physiological requirements, is met can further steps be taken to ensure wellbeing. When there is an inability to meet this foundational need, however, ramifications occur on both an individual and communal level. One such area greatly affected is the ability to learn and perform in an academic setting. Considering that one in every five children in Arkansas experiencing hunger, it is no wonder that our academic success as a state suffers.
Studies showing the inverse relationship between academic performance and nutrient intake drive home this point. In contrast to their satiated peers, there is a direct correlation between poor school attendance, a lack of punctuality, and lower test scores in every school subject when children are reported to be food insecure (Kleinman et al., “Diet, breakfast”). Another study also conducted by Kleinman showed that “virtually all behavioral, emotional, and academic problems were more prevalent in hungry children, but that aggression and anxiety had the strongest degree of association with experiences of hunger” (Kleinman et al. “Hunger in children”). Children categorized as hungry were twice as likely to be considered psychologically impaired when their behavior was assessed by parents and teachers (Murphy et al.). All of the research points to the same conclusion; the greater risk of hunger a child has, the worse they perform academically and socially.
This is a trend we witness in our own community. The Arkansas Department of Education releases yearly report cards for schools in the state’s districts with data ranging from student demographics to college readiness, among a host of other statistics. One piece of data particularly interesting to our organization is the percentage of children who qualify for free or reduced lunches in the Little Rock School District. When we cross reference the letter grade assigned to each school in our district with the percentage of children qualifying for free or reduced price lunches in that institution, a clear trend emerges. For schools with D and F report cards, an average of 87.1% of the student body qualifies for the subsidized meal program. School that received an A or B, on the other hand, averaged 33.4%. Hunger is impacting the children of our community on an individual level, but it plays an equal part in the success of our schools as a whole.
Yet another interesting trend arises when school success is examined from a bird’s-eye view. The map below charts each school in the Little Rock School District as the letter grade given by the department of education for the 2021-2022 school year. No schools with A grades, and all but one of the B letter grade recipients, were located to the north of Interstate 630. We can extrapolate the cause by examining the effects of the federal Housing Act of 1949. Flagrantly used to deepen segregation in the city, the execution of this glaring act of institutional racism resulted in the expulsion of Black families from parts of the city viewed as desirable, tearing apart thriving Black communities (Kirk). The success of a school is linked to the resources of the community around it (for example, access to affordable, healthy food for students), so with the coalescing of Little Rock’s white population, and hence its wealth, to the west, schools in the south remain at an extreme disadvantage to this day.
Kirk, John. “The Roots of Little Rock’s Segregated Neighborhoods.” Arkansas Times, 10 July 2014, arktimes.com/news/cover-stories/2014/07/10/the-roots-of-little-rocks-segregated-neighborhoods.
Kleinman, R E et al. “Diet, breakfast, and academic performance in children.” Annals of nutrition & metabolism vol. 46 Suppl 1,0 1 (2002): 24-30. doi:10.1159/000066399
Kleinman, R E et al. “Hunger in children in the United States: potential behavioral and emotional correlates.” Pediatrics vol. 101,1 (1998): E3. doi:10.1542/peds.101.1.e3
Murphy, J. Michael, et al. “Relationship between Hunger and Psychosocial Functioning in Low-Income American Children.” Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, vol. 37, no. 2, Feb. 1998, pp. 163–170, https://doi.org/10.1097/00004583-199802000-00008.