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ACNJ Press Release

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Advocates for Children of New Jersey

For Immediate Release
June 24, 2014

NEWS: Summer May Leave Nutritional Gap for Newark Children

Contact: Nancy Parello, Communications Director, Advocates for Children of New Jersey, (908) 399-6031, nparello@acnj.org

A growing number of Newark children depend on school meals and food stamps to get the nutrition they need to grow up healthy and become productive members of their communities, according to a report released today by Advocates for Children of New Jersey.

As summer starts, those supports are even more important when school-age children who rely on school meals to stay nourished may have limited access to healthy food.

The report, Heading Off Hunger: A Snapshot of Child Nutrition in Newark, also found that while the city, school districts and many community-based programs offer child nutrition and fitness programs, it is nearly impossible to measure whether children’s nutritional needs are being met with healthy foods.

“This report is a first step toward painting a more comprehensive picture of the state of child nutrition in Newark,” said Cecilia Zalkind, executive director of Advocates for Children of New Jersey. “It became clear in our research that there is a lack of data and information, which could help guide more effective responses to childhood hunger and obesity.”

Key findings of the report, funded through the New Jersey Partnership for Healthy Kids and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, include:

  • Newark children are increasingly living in families earning at or below the federal poverty line, making it more likely that parents are forced to choose between paying the rent and feeding their children healthy food, which is typically more expensive than unhealthy food.
  • Newark preschoolers are more than twice as likely to be overweight or obese than their peers across the nation.
  • Just 18 percent of Newark mothers are breastfeeding when they leave the hospital – nearly half the state rate of 34 percent.
  • Certain nutrition programs reach just a fraction of children most likely to be hungry. Especially underutilized are the after-school snacks and dinner programs and meals provided in child care settings.
  • While more students are receiving fresh fruits and vegetables at school, thanks to a relatively new federal program, a small percentage of Newark schools participate, limiting the impact of an available and critical nutritional support.
To address these issues, ACNJ recommended:
  • Increasing gathering and availability of information and data.
  • Improve city-wide coordination of child nutrition through a food policy council.
  • Streamlining nutrition data systems and food programs.
  • Increasing participation in the At-Risk After School Meal program and child care food program.
  • Issuing specific guidance on food and nutrition for Newark schools.
  • Increasing stores that are able to accept WIC benefits in Newark.
  • Promoting breastfeeding among new mothers.

As a first step toward addressing these recommendations, a panel of nutrition experts discussed ways the city, school district and community leaders could more effectively coordinate efforts, measure results and identify gaps. The panel also explored ways to increase participation in child nutrition programs.

“This report was designed to help us advance ongoing efforts to ensure that all Newark children receive good nutrition and physical exercise, which is essential to their health and future development,” said Darrin Anderson, deputy director of the New Jersey Partnership for Healthy Kids, which is working in five cities, including Newark, to change policy and practices to promote child nutrition and reduce childhood obesity. “We see this is a roadmap for future change that can return real results to children in Newark and across the state.”