For the millions of school-aged children heading back to school, having proper nutrition can mean the difference between returning to school in the fall ready to learn, or falling behind. Nearly 49 million Americans, including 16.2 million children, lack the means to get enough nutritious food on a regular basis. That equates to one in five children living in hunger, worrying whether they'll have enough food to have the energy needed to learn, grow and thrive.
The recession hit American households hard. Families grappling with job loss, foreclosures and medical bills have also struggled to stock their pantries and put food on the table. Even as our nation heads toward economic recovery, many people today continue to rely on the assistance of school lunch programs, food pantries and other community anti-hunger initiatives to provide meals for their families.
It's not enough, however, to make sure America's children have enough to eat; we must also make sure they are getting the nutrition they need to live healthy, active lives. Having access to ample nutritious food is critical to a child's healthy development, especially as it relates to their physical health, cognition, academic performance, and emotional and social well-being. Research indicates that hungry children do not perform as well academically because they are not well-prepared and have trouble concentrating, setting them up to be less productive, less successful adults than their food-secure peers.
Understanding this urgent need to address the sharp imbalance of food allocation, the restaurant industry, through the National Restaurant Association, and the national nonprofit Share Our Strength are working together to help end childhood hunger in America through Share Our Strength's No Kid Hungry campaign. No Kid Hungry builds public-private partnerships to fight childhood hunger and relies on the strength of restaurant industry volunteers to help build public awareness about the problem and solutions to end it. The campaign creates partnerships aimed at increasing access to food for families and educates children and families about nutritious, affordable eating. Through this partnership, restaurants and chefs have helped raise nearly $100 million since Share Our Strength's inception in 1984 to help make sure that no child goes hungry.
An example of the combined power of No Kid Hungry and the National Restaurant Association is Share Our Strength's Dine Out For No Kid Hungry, an annual effort that leverages the generous nature of restaurant-goers and industry members to raise funds that support the No Kid Hungry campaign. Each September, participating restaurants develop their own creative ways to raise funds that the campaign uses to combat childhood hunger across the country.
While our goal comes with a number -- we are committed to working together to triple the funds raised for the No Kid Hungry campaign through 2013 -- it also comes with a vision to ensure that America's kids have the tools and resources they need to lead quality, productive lives. We truly believe that each child in America should have the opportunity, right and privilege to a healthy childhood -- one that paves the way for them to do well in school, stay active and dream big without interruption from hunger. It's a vision aligned with the National Restaurant Association's fundamental goal to enhance the quality of life for all we serve.
The fight to end hunger is not just limited to the summer months when children may go without school lunch and breakfast programs, or to September during Dine Out For No Kid Hungry, or to any other singular month's observance; it's a very real and urgent issue that must be nationally addressed year-round to give us our best chance at improving the outlook and lives of the millions of children considered food-insecure. Everyone can play a part -- through time, donations and outreach -- in achieving this goal. To learn more about how to join this cause and about Dine Out For No Kid Hungry, go to dineout.strength.org.
Dawn Sweeney is the president and CEO of the National Restaurant Association. Tom Nelson is the president of Share Our Strength.
Follow Dawn Sweeney on Twitter: www.twitter.com/WeRRestaurants