The USDA has awarded $5.5 million to fund research that will help alleviate childhood hunger in the U.S. Craig Gundersen of the University of Illinois (U of I) and James Ziliak of the University of Kentucky Center for Poverty Research will work together to coordinate a research program on childhood hunger.

“Limited economic resources in the American household have resulted in less food on the table. This food insecurity has a negative impact on children's intellectual, physical, and emotional development,” says Gundersen, a U of I associate professor of agricultural and consumer economics. “This program will lay the foundation for what will be the next great wave of research into food insecurity and food assistance policy, expanding the nation’s corps of food security researchers.”

The program will solicit external research projects through the University of Kentucky Center for Poverty Research. When completed, Gundersen and Ziliak will synthesize, summarize, and draw out the policy implications of the work.

“This summary will address the determinants of childhood hunger among low-income families, the identification of food insecurity for directed interventions, policy innovations to improve the effectiveness of food assistance programs in reducing episodic and persistent hunger, implications for how complementary safety net programs can be improved to eliminate hunger and a detailed analysis of what we know and what we need to know in order to eliminate childhood hunger in the U.S.,” Gundersen says.

According to the USDA, in 2008, about one in five children lived in families without the financial means to access enough food to sustain active, healthy living.  In 2009, the USDA devoted over $60 billion to address the problem.  

“The problem of food insecurity has become particularly acute in recent years, including an unprecedented increase of over 30% from 2007 to 2008,” Gundersen says. “One key reason that rate remains stubbornly high is limitations in our understanding of the causes and the effectiveness of programs currently in place to alleviate food insecurity. This program will use integrated, cutting-edge research to explore the causes, consequences and policy solutions to childhood hunger in the U.S.”