Hungry Teenagers In The US: The Extreme Ways Young People Cope With Food Deprivation

Not all neighborhoods in the United States have ready supplies of fresh, quality food. These are often expensive so people resort to buying from convenience stores some fast food or processed snacks that are low in nutritional value. Of course, these aren't enough for many families in poor communities, and so even young people seek other ways to satiate their family's hunger.

A study from the Urban Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank and non-profit organization Feeding America, followed 193 teens from 10 different communities for three years. They found that teenagers resort to the extremes in exchange for money or meals.

Those extremes often fall in the illegal category, including shoplifting food, stealing items and reselling them as a way of making money, and intentionally failing school so as to continue their free access to food programs, Mic reports. Other teenagers enter the sex trade for money or meals, while others skip meals so their younger siblings can eat.

These teenagers are incapable of getting minimum-wage jobs because they often have to compete with adults. Teens lose in this scenario because they have to take their school schedule into account, while adults have more job experience than them. Many companies refuse to give jobs to teens and prefer those with experience.

As a result, teens do "under the table" work or do small jobs such as babysitting. When small jobs such as those aren't available, more extreme measures are sought by these teenagers.

Susan Popkin, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute and co-author of the report, said teenagers resorting to sexual favors or dangerous behavior shy away from seeking help and assistance because of how they are treated -- with disdain and fear. Popkin said people often forget that teens engaging in risky behaviors for money or meals are actually victims of sexual exploitation, KHN reveals.

The report also found that teenagers are ignorant of how many food resources cater to them. Some of the study's participants believe that local food pantries are unreachable and summer programs only serve small children and not adolescents. The Grab 'N Go Breakfast Initiative in North Carolina, for instance, provides free healthy breakfast to students in grades K-8 regardless of their family income.

A recent report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture states that 13 million children and 29 million adults have insufficient and insecure food supply in 2015. Those numbers account for 12.7 percent (15.8 million households) of the country's entire population.

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