As a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital Colorado (Children’s Colorado), we believe that food is medicine and children need access to nutritious food to grow up healthy and strong. This November, we have the chance to take a historical step towards ending childhood hunger. Colorado voters can ensure access to free, nutritious meals for every student in public school, by voting yes on Proposition FF, also known as Healthy School Meals for All.
At Children’s Colorado, I serve as Medical Director of Resource Connect, an innovative model embedded within our primary care clinic to address our patients and their families’ social needs, including food security. Resource Connect operates a Healthy Roots Food Clinic where we work to address food security concerns, so that our patients and their families have access to nutritious food, and they get enough food for an active and healthy life. The services provided in Resource Connect help promote equitable access to the resources that our patients and families served in our Health Pavilion need to support their health and well-being beyond the walls of our clinic. This is accomplished through partnerships between Children’s Colorado and community-based organizations.
No child should go hungry, yet I have personally seen the effects of childhood hunger in my clinic. Hunger often manifests as behavioral issues such as anxiety and depression, and developmental delays on cognitive and social emotional levels. Parents know that hunger negatively affects their kids, and it is common for parents to tell me that they go without eating so that their kids can eat. If a parent is experiencing hunger, then it is harder for them to do their job as a parent. If parents have less capacity to cope with their child’s challenges, it can set off a negative feedback loop rooted in family food insecurity. Addressing child hunger could help parents in our communities go less hungry so they can be at their best for their kids.
We know more kids eat when they are universally available. Last year when all meals were free with federal aid, 68,700 more lunches were served than in prior years. Furthermore, we know a lot of Colorado families need this program. According to the US Census Bureau’s 2022 Household Pulse Survey, two out of five Colorado families are struggling to put food on the table for their children. Proposition FF would make free breakfast and lunch available to all students attending Colorado public schools. It also incentivizes schools to use healthy and nutritious ingredients instead of processed foods and provides funding for schools to purchase ingredients from Colorado farmers and ranchers to use in school meals. If passed, Proposition FF will have a beneficial impact on kids’ health outcomes by supporting nutrition needs, bolstering food security, and improving their academic performance and outcomes.
Adequate access to healthy food supports kids’ physical and mental health. National data, from a study from the Journal of Econometrics, reveals that free or reduced-price school lunches lowers rates of poor health by 29%. Further, research also shows that access to breakfast and lunch decreases the probability of being overweight or obese and can also help to reduce behavioral health issues.
Research has shown that providing kids with a healthy breakfast and lunch can lead to better academic outcomes in the classroom. When students are fed, they get along better with peers, cause fewer disruptions, and have better attendance and academic performance. Improved health outcomes are linked to better education success.
At Children’s Colorado, we are proud to support food as medicine through Proposition FF. I hope that Colorado voters will join me in taking a major step forward towards ending childhood hunger and voting yes on Proposition FF this November.
Dr. Lisa Ross DeCamp is a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital Colorado