Young people helping to fight hunger

Teen Hunger

milton harrison

Approximately 6.7 million youth ages 10 through 19 receive assistance from the Feeding America network each year, but there is only limited research that has focused on teenagers’ lived experience with food insecurity.

Supported by the ConAgra Foods Foundation, Feeding America partnered with the Urban Institute to better understand how teens experience and cope with food insecurity in the United States. The research collaboration used qualitative methods – a series of focus group discussions with teens, ages 13-18, in 10 low-income communities across the country. Findings are presented in two briefs:

Bringing Teens to the Table: A Focus on Food Insecurity in America explores how teens view the food environment, their experiences with food insecurity in their households and communities, and the barriers to participating in food assistance programs.

Impossible Choices: Teens and Food Insecurity in America provides a deeper look at the coping strategies teens use when faced with food insecurity, including those that may put them at long-term risk.

Key findings from the study include:

  • Teens are active participants in family food acquisition and management strategies. 
  • Teens fear stigma around hunger and actively hide it as much as they can.
  • Food-insecure teens strategize about how to mitigate their hunger and make food last longer for the whole family.
  • Although parents try to protect teens from hunger and from bearing responsibility for providing for themselves or others, teens in food-insecure families also routinely take on this role.
  • SNAP is an important source of support for many families, and benefits are valued because they allow households to acquire food by shopping in mainstream retail settings.
  • Teens have a lot of opinions about school meal programs and ideas about how to strengthen them.
  • Teens would overwhelmingly prefer to earn money through a legitimate job.
  • When faced with acute food insecurity, teens said that youth may engage in risky behavior. 

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