Despite Arkansas' role in the agriculture industry we are unfortunately all too familiar with hunger and malnourishment. Arkansas was one of seven states that had significantly higher household food insecurity rates between 2009 and 2011 with 19.2 percent. Our children are hurting. More than 27 percent of children in Arkansas struggle with hunger.
During the school year, kids from low income families have an opportunity for a regular, nutritious, healthy breakfast and lunch, but there is a higher risk for hunger in the summer. Funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture summer meal programs help provide children nationwide with the healthy, nutritious meals when school is out.
Schools across the state participate in the program, and work is underway to expand its reach. Last summer more than 144 million meals were provided nationwide, but the program has been underutilized in Arkansas and some of our students are missing out on an opportunity for nutritious meals when school is out.
Nutrition is important for the long term development of children. Investments in nutrition that focus on the first thousand days, from pregnancy to age two, not only saves lives, but also contribute directly to other development outcomes, including improved economic growth. It is in the best interest of Arkansans to help these students have the tools to live up to their greatest potential.
As a co-chair of the Senate Hunger Caucus, a bipartisan group of Senators working to raise awareness and resources to address domestic and international hunger issues, I understand taking steps to address malnutrition and food security is of global significance.
Hunger has no boundaries, but the good news is this is preventable and we are in a position to help. The U.S. has made significant contributions to improve nutrition and agriculture worldwide and we're continuing our commitment.
In a bipartisan letter with several other Senators, we urged the Obama Administration to continue leading on this front in advance of the Nutrition for Growth summit which brought the world together to address malnutrition and food insecurity.
While I believe the government can play an influential role in helping people who suffer from hunger, it also requires community involvement and efforts of the private sector.
I'm proud to see the community involvement throughout our state that is working to address hunger and malnourishment. Volunteers across the state help donate to the food banks and raise funds to feed families. Arkansas based businesses like Wal-Mart and Tyson Foods have made substantial investments in helping on this front and I am confident they will continue to be leaders in this effort.
There is a roll for us all to play in this fight against hunger. Too many children are relying on our help.