Every Child, Every Meal: The Data Behind Ending Child Hunger

May 1, 2017 12:00 pm PST | Data as a Service

Thirteen million U.S. children — one in five kids from coast to coast — are hungry right now. Being under-fed has significant costs and consequences. According to a research review from RTI International, for example, hunger alters the way a child’s brain develops. Kids who come to school hungry get sick more frequently and children coping with hunger are 31 percent more likely to be hospitalized at some point during their childhood than their peers who are not hungry.

What happens if you feed a child? Students who regularly eat a healthy breakfast score 17.5 percent higher on standardized math tests than those who miss out.  

Despite widespread child hunger, many analysts have referred to it as the “silent epidemic.” But, one organization is directly, persistently addressing the problem. And, they’re doing so with plenty of data to make their case.


A Successful Approach to Hunger

Share Our Strength’s Maryland No Kid Hungry launched in 2008. Along with the Governor’s Children’s Cabinet, No Kid Hungry is one of the co-chairs of the Partnership to End Childhood Hunger in Maryland, a strong bipartisan coalition consisting of local schools, companies, non-profit organizations, and state agencies, all working together toward a common goal of getting breakfast, lunch, and after-school snacks to children all year long — whether they’re in classrooms, camps, or community centers.

“Our goal,” says David Sloan, Director of Maryland No Kid Hungry, “is to get every kid, every meal, every day.”

Over the past seven years, Maryland No Kid Hungry, a non-profit, has used data on its website to show its effectiveness of its work to end child hunger. In 2008, for instance, the organization empowered schools to distribute breakfasts to children in classrooms and other school areas besides the cafeteria. The efforts began with about a dozen schools, and now, more than 700 schools have extended their school breakfast programs. During the same time period, after-school snack and meal distribution increased 10 times over, and summer-meal distribution grew by 100,000 between 2015 and 2016.

Data on school breakfast

Data propelled these efforts. No Kid Hungry meets with local leaders and decision makers to share data on the numbers of children facing hunger in the school district’s county along with details about available resources. “Many schools are unaware of funding resources that are available until we share that data with them,” says Sloan. “In fact, the more schools take advantage of federal reimbursement programs, and expand meal access, the more reimbursement the school district will receive.”

These efforts have made a difference in Maryland, a state where 19.1 percent of those under the age of 18 live in households that experience limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods at some point during the year, according to the Children’s Defense Fund.

But there’s more work to do, however, because 63 percent of the teachers in Maryland say they still teach hungry children.


New Look at Data

Now, Maryland No Kid Hungry is working with Socrata to enrich and enhance its data presence. So far, the partnership has developed a new analytics dashboard that includes a series of interactive maps showing child hunger in Maryland by site and county. Eventually, the dashboard will also include legislative districts.

“Thanks to Socrata’s insight and input,” explains Sloan, “we’re going to be able to do much more than merely display and chronicle our progress when it comes to eradicating child hunger in Maryland. In addition to this, we’ll show a host of external audiences — parents, schools, legislators, community activists, and reporters — where the remaining hungry kids are, and where we really need to concentrate our efforts. There will also be a way for people to compare the progress that each jurisdiction is making, and what best practices are really working.”

Maryland Hunger Map

In the future, Maryland No Kid Hungry hopes to potentially integrate a broad range of new public datasets from areas like housing, employment, and health. “This will help us better explain the causes and impact of child hunger in our communities,” says Sloan, “and it’s one of the reasons why I’m optimistic that we can erase this problem sooner rather than later. Improved data will take us deeper and further down the path to success.”


More on No Kid Hungry’s Use of Data

Watch David Sloan’s presentation at Socrata Connect to learn more about how Maryland No Kid Hungry uses data to know when, where, and how to deliver food most effectively.