Opinion: ‘Critical’ to ensure nutritional needs of vulnerable children during pandemic

With schools and child care centers shuttered across the U.S. because of the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of children who rely on school meals may face food insecurity, according to a March 30, 2020 Perspective piece in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) co-authored by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health researchers.

Harvard Chan School co-authors of the article included Caroline Dunn, research associate, Erica Kenney, assistant professor of public health nutrition, and Sara Bleich, professor of public health policy.

Missed meals can lead to fatigue, reduced immune response, and long-term developmental, psychological, physical and emotional harms, the authors wrote. They noted that efforts to address the temporary lack of school- and child care center-based food programs vary across the U.S., and they examined the pros and cons of recent federal legislation aimed at providing nutrition assistance during the COVID-19 pandemic.

They offered several recommendations to address children’s food insecurity over the coming weeks and months. One recommendation is to centralize and widely distribute information about schools and school districts offering meals during school closures. Another is to provide families with multiple days’ worth of meals, perhaps with drive-through meal pickup, in order to decrease their social exposures and reduce their time and transportation burden.

“As we grapple with Covid-19, it’s critical to ensure that the nutritional needs of vulnerable children are met in order to avoid exacerbating disparities in health and educational attainment for years to come,” the authors wrote.

Read the NEJM Perspective article: Feeding Low-Income Children during the Covid-19 Pandemic