Approximately 63,000 Maine children are food insecure. Food insecurity describes when someone does not have consistent access to food, either because of their income or because resources are limited where he or she lives.

This condition of poverty directly impacts the health of Maine’s population and economy.

Each year, based in statute, the Maine Economic Growth Council identifies and tracks 27 indicators of Maine’s economic performance and quality of life. This year the council added food insecurity to its 20th annual Measures of Growth in Focus report, a piece of work that examines a wide-ranging picture of Maine’s economy.

Children without consistent access to food face physical, intellectual and emotional development delays during the critical formative years early in life.

Hungry children cannot learn. Food insecurity for kindergartners impairs scores in math and reading. In addition, fourth grade reading scores, another key indicator in the report, are compromised by food insecurity.

Alarmingly, these scores are reliable predictors of future outcomes — educational attainment, employment, earnings, productivity, remediation, criminal justice, health status, welfare and incarceration — which impact the well-being of Maine’s citizens and economy.

Food insecurity has been estimated to cost Maine $787 million per year in direct and indirect costs associated with poor health, lowered educational outcomes and earning potential, and the value of related charitable contributions. It is much more cost-effective to reduce food insecurity than to deal with its impacts, like curing the disease instead of just treating the symptoms.

Early in my career, I was involved with anti-hunger work and the Campaign to End Childhood Hunger. In a state with an emerging and expanding farming sector, I believe this is a problem we can solve.

Food insecurity is a multi-faceted issue. The Measures of Growth In Focus 2014 report identifies it among economic indicators that must be addressed when considering the progress of this state.

Citizens and legislators should utilize the report as a guide for where the state should be focusing its attention and efforts.

Rep. Jennifer DeChant, D-Bath, is serving her first term in the Maine Legislature. She was appointed to serve on the Maine Economic Growth Council in 2013.

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