During the school year, the focus for many households with students is a hectic schedule full of schoolwork, sports and socializing. The foundation for all of these activities is a healthy diet, yet many families and college students across Silicon Valley struggle to access nutritious food. Good food and nutrition play vital roles in helping children, adolescents and college students learn and grow. When students have access to enough healthy food, they are able to concentrate, graduate and pursue their goals.  An investment in access to food can make a lifelong and generational impact, providing an opportunity to build strong, well-educated and healthy children and young adults who become tomorrow’s entrepreneurs, business leaders, healthcare workers and educators.

1. Physical Health 

Nutrition impacts overall health, including the immune system. Kids and college students with access to proper nutrition are more likely to have better overall health and development outcomes.   

Children who do not have access to nutritious food are sick more often and more likely to have to be hospitalized and can suffer growth impairment that precludes them from reaching their full physical potential. They are more likely to have poorer overall health, iron deficiency anemia, and developmental problems. 

Reliance on sugary or calorie-dense comfort foods in times of stress can become a necessity for food insecure households, which can lead to poor nutrition and health outcomes. Children whose families are food insecure are more likely to be overweight or obese as compared to children whose families are food secure. This can lead to chronic conditions down the road. 

Floridalma Second Harvest Client


“[It is important that kids eat vegetables] so that they grow up healthy … it is what their doctors recommend and more than anything, as a child myself, I did not have that opportunity [to eat nutritious foods].”

– Floridalma, client

“[It is important that kids eat vegetables] so that they grow up healthy … it is what their doctors recommend and more than anything, as a child myself, I did not have that opportunity [to eat nutritious foods].”

– Floridalma, client

2. Academic Performance 

Food plays a vital role in preparing children and students to learn and making sure they are healthy enough to attend school each day. Nutrition impacts brain development, memory and cognitive function, energy, attention and focus, which are all critical to the ability to absorb and retain information. Children who have a balanced diet are more likely to have improved school attendance, better grades, and higher test scores than those with poor dietary habits.  

When children are hungry, it negatively impacts their learning. They have lower math scores and lower grades; they are more likely to be absent or tardy; they are more likely to be suspended from school and are more likely to repeat a grade.  

Food insecure college students are more likely to fail assignments and exams, withdraw from classes or the university, and earn lower grade point averages than their counterparts. Additionally, they reported missing out on professional development opportunities, such as internships, which may affect their future career ambitions.  

“So I think folks are used to this idea that when you come to college you are signing up for these expectations of what a college student is. And part of that is the starving student, ‘I’m just going to be broke and eat ramen because that’s all I can afford.’ And we’re really trying to combat that messaging with the message that students should be getting nutritious food, they should be getting assistance with those food needs because they are in a unique population that really comes up against these barriers to getting access to nutritious food.

– Victoria, Student Affairs Case Manager, San Jose State University 

3. Mental Health 

Nutrition impacts mental health. When kids and college students lack the healthy foods they need, stress and anxiety can interfere with learning and well-being. When nutrition needs are met, students can begin to focus on their wellness. 

Household food insecurity impacts mental health and behavioral issues in children and adolescents including aggression, anxiety, depression, and ADHD.  

When college students don’t really know if they’ll be able to get enough to eat, it can lead to a series of problems that make it harder to stay in school. Food-insecure [college] students are more likely to experience stress, poor mental health and depression, poor/fair health status, poor sleep quality, fatigue and lack of energy, irritability, and headaches.  

“I was always anxious, and it was really affecting me mentally. I was feeling drained every day. In school, I couldn’t focus. I was just worrying about, ‘OK, what am I going to eat? How many hours (do) I have to work this week and what can I use this extra $20 on?’” 

Moctezuma, college student and client 
Moctezuma, college client, holding box of Second Harvest of Silicon Valley food.

4. Social Interactions 

Proper nutrition can impact social and emotional development. When children and adolescents feel well, they are more likely to engage in social interactions and participate actively in learning experiences.  

Hungry children have more social and behavioral problems because they feel bad, have less energy for complex social interactions, and cannot adapt as effectively to environmental stresses.  

By the time they are teenagers, food insecure children are twice as likely as their peers to have seen a psychologist, twice as likely to have been suspended from school, and have greater difficulty getting along with other children.  

5. Healthy Habits 

Food and proper nutrition lead to a healthier life. Developing healthy eating habits during childhood sets the foundation for lifelong dietary choices. Children who are exposed to a variety of nutritious foods are more likely to continue making healthy food choices as they grow older. Children in households with uncertain access to nutritious food are twice as likely to have low self-esteem and less likely to believe they can make healthy choices.  

“Sometimes the behaviors around food, such as how and when we eat, are just as important as the food itself. Fostering a healthy relationship around food makes us feel good about our food choices, takes away the ‘good food, bad food’ mentality and sets us up for healthy habits for years to come.”

– Alex Navarro, Director of Nutrition 

6. Long Term Outcomes 

Good nutrition positively impacts kids, students and families for generations. Young kids turn into college kids, and too many students see their futures jeopardized because they struggle to get the nutritious food they need to focus. When students don’t know if they’ll be able to eat it can lead to a series of physical, mental and emotional challenges that make it harder to stay in school and do well. And staying in school and earning a degree can be an important first step toward breaking the cycle of poverty many children from food insecure families find themselves in. 

It can make a generational difference for families when kids are able to graduate, pursue higher education degrees or technical job training, and attain higher paying jobs. When families can start to accumulate wealth and pass that on to younger generations within their family, financial security is easier.  

Silicon Valley workers with a bachelor’s degree earned an estimated $60,000 more than those with only a high school diploma (2.5 times more) in 2021. Those at the highest level of educational attainment (graduate or professional degree) had incomes over 4.5 times greater than those at the lowest level (without a high school diploma or equivalency). 

Workers who experienced hunger as children are not as well prepared physically, mentally, emotionally or socially to perform effectively in the contemporary workforce.