According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food and Nutrition Service, which targets "low-income, nutritionally at risk" American children, 53 percent of infants born in the United States are served by the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program.
That is more than half of America's children who are at risk of facing the lifelong consequences of early nutritional deficiencies, and the American Academy of Pediatrics is sounding the alarm.
To put this another way:
A majority of all infants born in the United States are born to families who are unable to afford to feed them. This is an aspect of American poverty that is often overlooked.
The food that is often fed to poor children lacks nutritional value, something that affects brain development and touches all aspects of the infant's future life.
As the article states:
No amount of catch-up can completely fix the lost time for brain formation.
“Failure to provide key nutrients during this critical period of brain development may result in lifelong deficits in brain function despite subsequent nutrient repletion,” the AAP Committee on Nutrition said.
In other words, no amount of catch-up can completely fix the lost time for brain formation. Malnourishing the brain can produce a lower IQ; lead to a lifetime of chronic medical problems; increase the risk of obesity, hypertension and diabetes; and cost that individual future academic achievement and job success. The impact can even be generational, perpetuating a cycle of poverty for lifetimes to come.
While organizations like the World Bank, USAID, the World Health Organization and UNICEF work to combat malnourishment among infants in developing nations, the focus on nutrition during the first 1,000 days of infancy in the U.S. is lacking.
It’s unclear exactly how many kids in the U.S. are malnourished, but there’s some disturbing evidence: A quarter of toddlers don’t receive enough iron, 1 in 5 children are obese, 1 in 6 households with children are food-insecure, and over half of infants participate in the federal Women, Infants, and Children program for supplemental nutrition.
These children’s futures are at stake, said Lucy Sullivan, executive director for the nonprofit 1,000 Days, which advocates here and abroad for better early nutrition.
Misconceptions about food security in the U.S. abound, and many people fail to link early nutrition with future success - but the data tell an unfortunate story:
“We take nutrition for granted in the U.S. because we think there is this abundance of food and children are of course going to get fed,” said Sullivan, the executive director of 1,000 Days.
Meanwhile, she argues, the U.S. is leaving behind poor, marginalized children. “When that inequality is baked in early in life,” Sullivan said, “that has repercussions for that society later on in life, and it perpetuates the cycle of inequality.”