Researchers Find North Texas Kids Have Higher Risks of Poverty, Food Instability, Mental Health Problems

A new report put out by the research advocacy group Children At Risk has compiled statistics to show that hundreds of thousands of North Texas children are living in poverty and facing food insecurity. The Future of North Texas' Children examines 10 topics affecting North Texas children, including poverty, hunger, obesity and mental health. In 2010, 29.3 percent of children in Dallas County, more than 190,000 children total, lived in families below the federal income poverty level. Across the nine counties Children At Risk examined, that number rose to more than 360,000. The results in the other categories are similarly troubling, including 20 percent food insecurity among Dallas County children.

Nationwide nearly 22 percent of children live in poverty. That's 16 million children, an increase of more than 4.5 million since 2000. In the last month there have been reports of increased child poverty rates in New Jersey and Tennessee. This week President Obama even made a rare mention of it during his nomination for the new chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, saying, "We have too many kids in poverty in this country, still."

The report also looks at ways to improve current programs aimed addressing some of these problems. Take child hunger for example. The report finds that on any given day almost 68 percent of the more than 420,000 North Texas students eligible for their school breakfast program don't take advantage of it. The group is working with Dallas ISD to serve school breakfast in the classroom, a move that could ensure that an additional 86,000 students are more likely to take advantage of it. Children at Risk also worked to get a state school breakfast bill signed into law in May.

Childhood poverty is associated with behavioral, health and developmental problems. Chronic stress brought on by poverty and food instability does long-term damage to children's concentration and memory. Children living in poverty are also more than four times more likely to drop out of school.

"Public policy is a main focus for us," Jaime Hanks Meyers, the group's managing director in North Texas, told The Dallas Morning News. "We're going to struggle to meet all the needs of our kids. We have to work together in all of this. Education, obesity, hunger -- one organization cannot solve all of this."

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