Appalling: New Study Reveals Hunger Forces Teenagers in United States to Trade Sex for Food


This story is very common in developing countries where abject poverty is widespread. If this story was told without any credible study to back it, some would dispute it. However, we now have the evidence.

The United States prides itself as the wealthiest and most powerful country in the world, but despite this pride, it has emerged that part of its population cannot even get a meal to satisfy their fundamental basic needs. This is more than shameful, especially in a country where there are uncountable billionaires.


A new study conducted by the Urban Institute, a Washington-based economic and social policy research group, in collaboration with Feeding America, a network of food banks in the United States, has revealed that some of the country’s teenagers offer their bodies for sale in order to get something to eat.

To put it bluntly, the study said teenage girls allow older men to have sex with them so that they can get money to buy food to eat, and support their families.


For boys, the study said they resort to shoplifting, stealing from neighbors, drug selling or joining gangs, in order to make a living.

According to how the study was conducted, the researchers created two focus groups: one male and one female in 10 of the poorest communities across the States. It also included those in major cities, such as Chicago and Los Angeles, as well as in some rural towns. The Researchers then interviewed 193 boys and girls aged 13 to 18, all anonymously, over the course of three years.


According to the researchers, their findings were deeply disturbing. The researchers wrote in the abstract of the study: “What emerged was a portrait of impossible choices imposed upon teenagers who are forced to transition into adulthood much too quickly.”

During the course of the study, the participants selected told researchers numerous stories of how they themselves, or some of their peers, had committed minor crimes such as shoplifting; or more serious offenses such as selling drugs, to put food on the table. Many described “selling their bodies” or “sex for money” as a way to get something to eat.

Especially for the girls, they often involve in transactional dating, meaning a female teen regularly sees and has sex with someone, often a significantly older man, in exchange for meals, material goods, or cash.


In two locations of the study, the teens told the researchers that sometimes they intentionally break the law in order to be arrested, so that they can get something to eat at detention and correctional centers.

“It might not be the best food, might not be the best place to be, but it’s a roof over your head. And every single day they eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner,” the study quoted one teenage girl in Portland as saying about getting arrested deliberately to satisfy her hunger need.

Again, the study cited boys from Los Angeles, who described how middle school girls give out flyers to advertise their sexual services, and a girl from Chicago, who told researchers about an 11-year-old sixth-grader who dropped out of school to work in the sex trade.


The study also revealed that some teenage boys know about how their female counterparts sell their bodies for food. A boy in rural North Carolina described the strategy the girls use. He told the researchers: “When you’re selling your body, it’s more in disguise. Like if I had sex with you, you have to buy me dinner tonight… that’s how girls deal with the struggle… That’s better than taking money because if they take money, they will be labeled a prostitute.”

Senior fellow at the Urban Institute and lead author of the study, Susan Popkin told the Guardian in an interview that it was particularly disturbing that the majority of stories in all focus groups were those of girls swapping sex for goods.


According to the researchers, food insecurity is widespread across the United States. The researchers claimed that hunger is, in many cases, the root cause of teen crime. They suggested that educators and police should be trained to recognize the trauma experienced by teens who are suffering from this predicament. They also recommended for the country to increase nutrition assistance benefits, and creating more and better youth job opportunities, in order to tackle poverty in the country. According to even the United States Census Bureau, 13.5% (43.1 million people) of the country’s population still lives in poverty.

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  1. One of my patients once impressed upon me that hunger (as different than hungry) is extremely painful. It brought back a line from Elvis Presley’s “In the Ghetto.” “…and his hunger burned.” This is really indefensible in a country as rich as the US. Between the legislators who will not spend the money to be sure children have enough food, and the citizens who vote for them to keep their taxes down; our insensitive and uncaring society is deplorable.

  2. Greetings,

    During WWII, Americans produced 44% of their own food. Citizens were taught and encouraged to plant gardens & keep chickens and other animals. Now, you can be arrested if you attempt to have a garden. My, how times have changed.


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