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Suza: AI can help in the war against child hunger

Guest Columnist Walter Suza utilizes ChatGPT to help find answers to the problem of child hunger.
Guest Columnist Walter Suza utilizes ChatGPT to help find answers to the problem of child hunger.

The number is nine million. 

That’s how many children in the United States are facing hunger, according to Feeding America.

In Iowa the number is 69,000. 

In 2019 I spoke with fifth and sixth graders from across Iowa at an event to celebrate the life of Dr. Norman Borlaug. I asked the students if they understood how it felt to be hungry. Those who answered described exactly how I felt myself as a child – stomach pain, body weakness, lack of focus, irritability.

A white student raised her hand and shared that her parents didn’t have enough money so they couldn’t afford food. Another white student raised her hand and shared that frequently she has just one meal a day. Broke my heart. 

Why children are hungry in Iowa is beyond me. The United States wastes over $400 billion of food each year, according to Feeding America. That’s wasting $44,000 of food for every hungry child. Mind boggling.

Let’s bring in my AI collaborator, ChatGPT, to say more about child hunger in the United States. Summarized responses from ChatGPT are in italics.

What are the key facts about child hunger?

Child hunger has detrimental effects on physical and mental health, educational attainment and overall well-being … While various federal programs like SNAP and school meal initiatives provide support, barriers to access persist. 

Elaborate on “While various federal programs like SNAP and school meal initiatives provide support, barriers to access persist.”

  • There is often a social stigma associated with receiving food assistance. Some people feel embarrassed or ashamed to apply for SNAP or utilize school meal programs due to misconceptions or judgments from others. 
  • The application processes for programs like SNAP can be complex and time-consuming. This can pose challenges for individuals who may not have access to the necessary resources, such as internet access or transportation, to complete the paperwork or attend in-person appointments.
  • Stringent eligibility criteria, such as income limits, may exclude some individuals or families who are in need but do not meet the specific requirements. This leaves a gap where some food-insecure individuals may not qualify for assistance.
  • Many people who are eligible for federal food assistance programs are not aware of their eligibility or the existence of these programs. Limited awareness can result from insufficient outreach efforts or language barriers, preventing those in need from accessing assistance.
  • In rural areas, limited access to grocery stores and food distribution centers can make it challenging for individuals to obtain nutritious food, even if they are receiving benefits. Transportation barriers can exacerbate this issue.
  • Administrative hurdles and delays in processing applications can lead to delays in receiving benefits. This can cause individuals and families to go without food for extended periods.
  • SNAP benefits, in particular, may not always provide enough financial support to cover a family’s food needs adequately. Benefit amounts may not adjust for regional variations in the cost of living, leaving some recipients struggling to make ends meet.
  • Certain federal programs have restrictions based on immigration status, which can limit access for undocumented immigrants or those with limited legal status, even if they are otherwise eligible.

Elaborate on “Child hunger has detrimental effects on physical and mental health, educational attainment and overall well-being.”

  • Children experiencing hunger are more susceptible to illnesses and chronic health conditions, which can have long-term implications for their well-being. 
  • Hunger can contribute to increased stress and anxiety in children. The constant worry about where their next meal will come from can lead to emotional distress and negatively impact their mental health. This can affect their ability to concentrate, regulate emotions and develop social skills. 
    • Hungry children often struggle to focus and perform well in school … making it difficult for them to learn and retain information. This achievement gap can persist throughout their education, hindering their long-term academic success and future opportunities. 
    • Child hunger can erode a child’s self-esteem and sense of security. The psychological toll of going to bed hungry or feeling ashamed about their circumstances can have lasting effects on their self-worth and overall well-being. 
  • Adults who experienced childhood hunger are more likely to face health problems, lower earning potential and limited economic opportunities. This perpetuates the cycle of poverty and food insecurity.

How can we end child hunger in America?

Ending child hunger in the United States requires a multi-faceted approach that addresses the economic, social and systemic factors contributing to food insecurity. It’s a collective responsibility that involves individuals, communities and policymakers working together to ensure that every child has access to nutritious food and the opportunity to thrive.

How can AI help fight child hunger?

  • AI can analyze vast datasets to identify trends and patterns related to child hunger, such as demographic information, regional disparities and economic factors. This analysis can help policymakers target interventions more effectively.
  • AI algorithms can optimize the distribution of food resources to areas with the greatest need, reducing waste and ensuring that food reaches underserved communities promptly.
  • AI-powered chatbots or virtual assistants can provide personalized guidance to families seeking food assistance, helping them navigate the application process for programs like SNAP or find local food resources.
  • AI can provide multilingual support to accommodate non-English-speaking families, making it easier for them to access food assistance programs.
  • AI models can simulate the impact of various policy changes or economic scenarios on child hunger rates, aiding policymakers in making informed decisions.

Thank you, ChatGPT.

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