Tackling Memphis' Ranking as the Most Food-Insecure City in America For Children

As unemployment and poverty rates continue to rise, food hardship and poor nutrition increase as well, particularly when it comes to families with young children. Nutrition is critical to promoting optimal early childhood brain development. In 2010, the Food Research Action Center (FRAC) ranked the Memphis Metropolitan Statistical Area as having the highest rate of food hardship and food insecurity in the nation (FRAC, 2010). John Cook, a pediatric researcher at Boston Medical Center stated in a recent “Feeding America” state-by-state report on childhood food insecurity, “research over the past 12 years shows conclusively that food insecurity and hunger are serious threats to children’s health, growth and development, and may even harm young children’s brain architecture” (FRAC, 2010).

In response to these troubling findings, the U.S. Council of Mayors has published a series of annual reports on the status of hunger and homelessness in American cities. As a supplement to the 2010 report, the Council, in partnership with Sodexo, provided four case studies of U.S. cities that are using innovative and collaborative policy solutions to combat childhood hunger. Listed below are a few initiatives taking place in Boston, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.

Early Childhood Nutrition

The Grow Clinic at the Boston Medical Center stresses the importance of working with families who have very young children. Families work with a doctor, nutritionist and social worker in order to develop a plan that addresses health, nutrition and home life. During the initial stages of the program, the nutritionist works to identify nutrition gaps in a family’s regular diet and the social worker seeks out available government services. If there is still an affordability issue with recommended food, the doctor can write a food prescription that is taken to a hospital pantry that supplies free fresh food for three-four days at a time (USCM, 2010).

Mayoral Mission

In 2005, Mayor Gavin Newsome of San Francisco signed an ordinance amending the San Francisco Health Code to establish a Food Security Task Force responsible for creating a strategic plan to address hunger, food security and increasing participation in federally funded programs. The Task Force is a diverse group representing local public agencies, nonprofits and religious groups. In 2009, the San Francisco Board of Education adopted a resolution that made it possible to feed all children regardless of their status under the National School Lunch Program. When kids are not in school, they still have to eat dinner and three meals a day during the weekends and holidays. In response to this growing concern for what happens when kids aren’t at school, the Healthy Children (HC) pantries established a grocery distribution program. HC has 52 sites throughout the city with 31 housed in public schools and the remainder in day care centers, family-housing and after-school programs.  On average, the HC pantry serves 4,000 households with children per week (USCM, 2010).

A City Council that Works for Kids

The Washington D.C. City Council has made strides to combat childhood hunger by passing several pieces of legislation that have worked to improve public school health, nutrition and wellness, expanded eligibility for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits and increased food options at corner stores located in food deserts. The Healthy Schools Act is designed to improve health, wellness and nutrition in D.C.’s public schools. Programs include providing free breakfast to all students, elimination of reduced-price co-payments for lunch, requires that all school meals meet the USDA’s Gold Level standards, sets a goal of 60 minutes of physical activity for students every day, requires public disclosure of school nutrition, environmental testing and health programs and many more. A detailed listing of programs can be found here. In response to the Healthy Schools Act, a third meal (dinner) has been added to students participating in after-school programs and approximately 10,000 students are already participating in the program. In 2009 the D.C. City Council adopted the “Food Stamp/SNAP Expansion Act of 2009,” which expanded eligibility among low-income residents. Building on that success, several council members created the “Food Stamp/SNAP Expansion Act of 2010,” which addressed families leaving the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program and self-employed residents applying for food stamps. The FEED D.C. Act of 2010 addresses the lack of fresh produce and unprocessed foods in low-income areas with little or no access to a traditional grocery store. Once the program is implemented, corner stores will receive assistance in accessing fresh produce to carry and begin accepting WIC benefits (USCM, 2010).

The Take Away:

With forty percent of Memphis children living in poverty, it is important to invest both in early childhood nutrition and school-age nutrition in order to encourage proper cognitive and behavioral development (Kids Count, 2009). These case studies show that there is not just one policy solution to ending childhood hunger, but rather it is a complex issue that requires good public-private partnership.

To access the full report detailing these and other initiatives taking place, please go here.


Annie E. Casey Foundation. Kids Count Data Center (2009). Available at: http://datacenter.kidscount.org/data/bystate/stateprofile.aspx?state=TN&loc=72.

Food Research and Action Center. Food hardship: A Closer Look at Hunger in the United States.(2010, January). Available at: http://frac.org/newsite/wpcontent/uploads/2010/01/food_hardship_report_2010.pdf.

United States Council of Mayors and Sodexho (2010, November). Strategies to Combat Childhood Hunger in Four U.S. Cities: Caste Studies of Boston, New Haven, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. Available at: http://www.sodexofoundation.org/hunger_us/Images/Sodexo_USCM%20Childhood%20Hunger%20Report%20Final%202010_tcm150-526656.pdf