Nutrition is Vital for Young Children

The Week of the Young Child, now in its 40th year, is an annual celebration sponsored by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). The purpose of the Week of the Young Child is to focus public attention on the needs of young children and their families and to recognize the early childhood programs and services that meet those needs. Today we know more than ever before about the importance of children’s earliest years in shaping their learning and development. Yet, never before have the needs of young children and their families been more pressing.

Too many children in the United States live in poverty, without good nutrition and health care.

•In the United States 18% of children under age 18 and 24% of children under age 6 live in poverty. It is estimated that 12 million children do not have enough food to meet their basic needs and approximately 3.2 million are suffering from hunger.

•In the United States 15% of children under age 18 and 24% of those living in poverty are not covered by health insurance.

•Approximately one-third of children and nearly one-half of black children born in the United States have at least one health risk at birth.

The Week of the Young Child is a time to recognize that children’s opportunities are our responsibilities, and to recommit ourselves to ensuring that each and every child experiences the type of early environment – at home, at child care, at school, and in the community – that will promote their early learning. Roughly 4 million children under age twelve go hungry each day.

Research demonstrates that children who lack adequate nutrition are more likely to have health problems and to have difficulty in school. There are several programs that help child care providers pay for meals and snacks. One of these is the Special Milk Program. The Special Milk Program provides milk to children in child care and schools that do not participate in other Federal child nutrition programs. Schools that participate in the National School Lunch or School Breakfast Programs also may participate in the milk program in order to provide milk to children enrolled in half-day pre-kindergarten and kindergarten programs that do not have a meal program. Children either purchase the milk or receive it for free. Families must meet income guidelines for their children to receive free milk.

Forty years later, the goal of the Week of the Young Child remains the same, but the scale of the event has grown. Communities nationwide buzz with festivals, parades, free museum visits, artwork exhibits, banquets for teachers, festivals for families, and crafts for children.