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Or in terms a capitalist should appreciate: does the investment in children's nutrition have a positive return? If food benefits are reduced through sequester or legislation, is there negative impact on children? Or is it one more item we can cut from the federal budget with no harm?

Yesterday I wrote about food stamps, or SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.) It's easy to see that at the individual level, the benefit can make all the difference in an individual's health and well-being. Even at an average benefit per person of only $4.45 per day, that can determine whether a person eats or does not eat. It is more difficult to prove the benefits of the nation's investment in the program, from the standpoint of societal well-being.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

For an adult, food insecurity may create transitory problems. But childhood hunger and food insecurity can have a lifelong impact due to their greater vulnerability.

How prevalent is childhood food insecurity? From Feeding America:

- 16.7 million children lived in food insecure households in 2011.[i]
- 20% or more of the child population in 36 states and D.C. lived in food insecure households in 2010.  The District of Columbia (30.7%) and Oregon (29.0%) had the highest rates of children in households without consistent access to food.[ii]
- In 2010, the top five states with the highest rate of food insecure children under 18 are the District of Columbia, Oregon, Arizona, New Mexico, & Florida.[iii]
- In 2010, the top five states with the lowest rate of food insecure children under 18 are North Dakota, New Hampshire, Virginia, Minnesota, & Massachusetts. [iv]

[references at the linked website]

Good nutrition early in life helps create a foundation for health, education, and later economic viability. The lack of high-quality food can have negative impacts on all these areas. According to the American Psychological Association,
The first three years of a child’s life are a period of rapid brain development. Too little energy, protein, and nutrients during this sensitive period can lead to lasting deficits in cognitive, social, and emotional development. [emphasis added]


Hunger reduces a child’s motor skills, activity level, and motivation to explore the environment. Movement and exploration are important to cognitive development, and more active children elicit more stimulation and attention from their caregivers, which promotes social and emotional development.


A community sample that classified low-income children ages six to twelve as “hungry”, “at-risk for hunger”, or “not hungry” found that hungry children were significantly more likely to receive special education services, to have repeated a grade in school, and to have received mental health counseling than at-risk-for-hunger or not-hungry children.

In this same study, hungry children exhibited 7 to 12 times as many symptoms of conduct disorder (such as fighting, blaming others for problems, having trouble with a teacher, not listening to rules, stealing) than their at-risk or not-hungry peers.

The research shows the negative impact of hunger. It is harder to tease out the impact, positive or negative, of food benefits, including SNAP, WIC (Women, Infants, and Children), the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program.

Consider a couple of reasons why it is hard to provide evidence of efficacy. First, there is no ethical way to identify children who qualify for food benefits, and then to create a control group of those who do not receive them. We cannot compare those who do receive benefits against those who do not in a meaningful way.

Second, most available data is collected from survey participants. Survey participation (by the adult/guardian) is voluntary, participation in food programs is under-reported, and diet/nutritional data is suspect to some degree due to self-reporting.

New research by Brent Kreider, Professor of Economics at Iowa State University, pushes through some of these problems. His methodology uses CDC data from the NHANES (National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey) to look at the impact of SNAP on childhood health. His research appears in the Journal of the American Statistical Association.

A report from Futurity quotes Kreider about the importance of the research. According to Kreider,

nearly half of all American children are expected to receive SNAP assistance at some point in their childhood.

The NHANES data includes the results from both interviews and physical exam. A difficulty of the research is that children receiving SNAP benefits are in generally poorer health than their peers who have food security. A reasonable question is that of cause and effect: does receipt of SNAP lead to poorer health? Or are conditions of food insecurity, which leads to SNAP receipt, a causative factor of poorer health?

And the question at hand, does SNAP have a positive impact on children's health?

In a word, YES.

Again, Futurity quotes Kreider:

“Our methods do not allow us to pinpoint exact estimates of how SNAP affects children’s health, but we can provide informative ranges on average causal effects of the program,” he says.

Despite the inherent limitations of the data, they found that the program has been effective in improving the well-being of children.

The researchers also found evidence that SNAP reduces the prevalence of childhood obesity and anemia, but those results were not statistically significant.

In other words, even with the limitations of the data, Kreider and his research partners found that SNAP provides positive health benefits for children.

These health benefits have individual and national impact. Hungry children have higher health costs, education deficits, and poorer preparation for the workplace. We all carry the burden through higher immediate costs and lower potential economic growth.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The impact of SNAP and other food programs is real and positive, both today and in the future. The lack of a new farm bill, which funds the food programs through the USDA, is not tenable in the long term.

Please contact your senators and representative to demand passage of a new, five-year farm bill that fully supports nutritional assistance programs. These programs provide a safety net for children and adults in need, and they also support farm producers through the demand for food.

Originally posted to Hunger in America on Thu Jan 17, 2013 at 08:41 AM PST.

Also republished by Jim & Melanie in IA, Income Inequality Kos, Dream Menders, and Invisible People.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Rickets (11+ / 0-)


    Those only happen to children in third world countries >O<

    "Til you're so fucking crazy you can't follow their rules" John Lennon - Working Class Hero

    by Horace Boothroyd III on Thu Jan 17, 2013 at 08:52:07 AM PST

  •  Now most of the argument against food stamps (13+ / 0-)

    focuses on obesity.

    Guess what? Food Stamp recipients are not obese because they have too much food income but because they have too little food income. When you are poor high starch low nutrient foods like rice and ramen make the bulk of your food intake. Next up on the cheap food scale are generic frozen foods that are pre prepared. These are also nutritionally void but with a small increase in protein and a large increase in much needed fats. You can not help but get fat or spend your days fighting hunger pains.

    "Til you're so fucking crazy you can't follow their rules" John Lennon - Working Class Hero

    by Horace Boothroyd III on Thu Jan 17, 2013 at 08:55:54 AM PST

  •  Without food stamps... (10+ / 0-)

    our diet consists of a lot of pasta (mac-n-cheese and spaghetti), hot dogs, processed frozen meats (think Family Banquet meals.. like the 'Salisbury steak') and spaghetti sauce.

    With food stamps: A lot of chicken and pork because I can afford the Buy One Get One meats, some red meat, a lot more fresh vegetables, some fresh fruits. Even for starch, with food stamps we use a lot more potatoes and much less pasta (except for my picky hypoglycemic autistic son... and even him, he eats more baked "fries" fresh cut from the potatoes). With food stamps I can also afford more milk alternatives for my son, which was a rarity without.

    Neither of my children are anywhere near obese. Neither is underweight at this point, though my daughter was for a while because she had trouble when she was little. My son is built thin and has been mistaken for underweight, though he's always been in the 85-95% for height/weight for his age (because he's tall not overweight) His height/weight percentiles however have always pretty much matched, which his pediatricians have told me was the goal.
    Even without food stamps they were doing ok, with food stamps however they are much more nutritionally sound, and so are the adults because we're not giving up nutrition so the kids have it.

    Another thing I've noticed.. my magnesium and potassium levels are much more stable now. I used to, even with supplements, end up on those two IV every time I ended up in the ER with an asthma/copd flare. Now I've been able to add foods rich in those two minerals to my diet, especially when I'm using my inhaler and nebs more often.

    "Madness! Total and complete madness! This never would've happened if the humans hadn't started fighting one another!" Londo Mollari

    by FloridaSNMOM on Thu Jan 17, 2013 at 09:29:48 AM PST

    •  This is BIG for your health, I expect: (10+ / 0-)
      Another thing I've noticed.. my magnesium and potassium levels are much more stable now.
      Having these stable and "correct" makes everything work more smoothly.

      Thanks for chiming in. I'm glad the kids are doing well from that aspect. It helps to hear your personal perspective for WITH and WITHOUT food stamps.

      I get to choose, and I choose love.

      by Melanie in IA on Thu Jan 17, 2013 at 09:37:20 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Thank you.. it is. (7+ / 0-)

        And I've had people complain at me that we still eat a lot of 'processed foods' and sometimes we do, though that's more due to my health (or lack of it) than the food stamps. There are days when I just can't cook (can't breathe, out of spoons, or seizing like last night), and sometimes those coincide with when Caedy can't cook (because her wrist swells up, she's ill, or falling asleep standing up). And so we still keep some of those quick processed meals so the kids have something to eat those nights. The kids have an easier time preparing the quick processed meals. Our kitchen isn't Dad accessible. That doesn't mean we eat poorly every night. We actually make a lot of things from scratch, and we do try to make some and freeze it when we can and don't just eat the leftovers for lunch.

        "Madness! Total and complete madness! This never would've happened if the humans hadn't started fighting one another!" Londo Mollari

        by FloridaSNMOM on Thu Jan 17, 2013 at 10:34:45 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  Oh, potassium and magnesium levels are very (5+ / 0-)

        important.  Before I started watching my magnesium levels I would occasionally get a leg cramp so bad that for the rest of the day it was like getting jabbed with a blood donation needle in the thigh with every step up or down stairs (and the bedrooms are upstairs).

        You have watched Faux News, now lose 2d10 SAN.

        by Throw The Bums Out on Thu Jan 17, 2013 at 10:59:20 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Thanks, Melanie in IA. (7+ / 0-)

    The research was really interesting. I can see why it's so hard to determine exact or even close to exact effects of the use of SNAP.

    Never thought that anyone would believe it might lead to poorer health, though. I guess, as Horace Boothroyd pointed out, even with SNAP, families tend to buy high-starch foods because they're cheaper,  last longer, and so stretch the SNAP allotment.

    Thanks again.

  •  In OK, if you are on (5+ / 0-)

    food stamps (SNAP, whatever it's called), you must take classes on nutrition to remain on it. This would be OK if the classes actually happened when scheduled and consisted of more than having a sheet of paper passed around that listed what was "nutritional" and allowed on benefits.

    I think food education is very, very important, and needs to be widely available, but not the way OK does it!.

    I spend (spent, maybe) a lot of my "charity" time sharing with the low income and homeless people various ways to eat well under adverse circumstances.

    There are a lot of ways to stretch food dollars nutritiously, and people just aren't educated on it. Not even rich people know how to eat well.

    All knowledge is worth having. Check out OctopodiCon to support steampunk learning and fun. Also, on DKos, check out the Itzl Alert Network.

    by Noddy on Thu Jan 17, 2013 at 11:09:09 AM PST

    •  Food education is a great idea, but (5+ / 0-)

      to be effective, it has to meet people where they are -- both physically and also experientially. It's easy to imagine it going all wrong. Makes me wonder about the cost/benefit analysis on that.


      I get to choose, and I choose love.

      by Melanie in IA on Thu Jan 17, 2013 at 11:13:24 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Dunno how officials would do it (6+ / 0-)

        but I did it by "wildcrafting" where the homeless hang out and making some of the stuff I found into a meal to share, then talking to them about wild foods and finding food and the best places to dumpster dive for food and how to tell if the food was still edible and how to live out of the quickie shops at gas stations. Itzl was a surprising help on that - people were friendlier and more approachable when a cute little dog was there.

        I also talked to the store managers to let me set up a cooking/shopping "booth" for their frequent food stamp customers. Ostensibly, any shopper could listen in and benefit, but I always had large food stamp audiences. They'd come back, too, with questions and suggestions of their own. I was the only one not giving out food samples and I always had a crowd.

        Officially, I think setting up cooking/shopping information booths in grocery stores on the day benefits are released would be the most effective way to reach those on food stamps. They have to shop to get the food, and an info booth where they could get and share tips and suggestions for optimizing their allotment could be surprisingly popular.

        I think public schools should implement a short course of inexpensive nutritious eating habits as part of their health and wellness programs (they do still have those in public schools, right? It's been a decade since I've had children in school.) The schools could also host evening or weekend nutrition meetings for parents - whether they are on food stamps or not.

        Churches could also host nutrition meetings, especially the ones that give/sell Angel Foods or run soup kitchens or food pantries.

        And soup kitchens and food pantries and homeless shelters could also host nutrition meetings.

        There are lots of places to go to reach people who are at risk for hunger, or are hungry.  and even the people who aren't at risk might appreciate the information.

        All knowledge is worth having. Check out OctopodiCon to support steampunk learning and fun. Also, on DKos, check out the Itzl Alert Network.

        by Noddy on Thu Jan 17, 2013 at 12:30:21 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Brent Kreider, Professor at Iowa State U., (5+ / 0-)

    is in Steve King's district. King is one of those House Republicans who want to cut funding for SNAP in the Farm Bill.

    From a September debate:

    King said a responsible farm bill should include cuts to the food stamp program and improved monitoring of it.

    “We had a fella that bailed himself out of jail with his EBT card, his electronic benefits transfer card,” King said. “We have tattoo parlors advertising in neon lights saying they’ll tattoo you, and you can pay for it with your food stamp card. We have to do something about this.”

    Those claims are pure baloney.
  •  I listened to some of this today... (4+ / 0-)

    Here is a quote from the site for the program. It has an audio link to replay the program.

    Here in Iowa, we live in one of the top food producers in the nation. Yet, some Iowans still have trouble accessing healthy foods. Host Ben Kieffer talks with experts across the state about people who live in areas with low access to healthy food…areas often referred to as “food deserts”. We find out why people in these areas have trouble accessing healthy food, and what efforts are being done to help these residents.
    I thought it was interesting. But, it was not about food stamps.

    Predicting is hard...especially the future. ~ Y. Berra

    by jim in IA on Thu Jan 17, 2013 at 12:47:21 PM PST

  •  Interesting post, Melanie. One would think there (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Melanie in IA, starfu, mjbleo

    would be stats available, somewhere to draw on, based on the free breakfast/lunch program (started by the Black Panthers, btw) that would show the impacts on education & hunger.....

     After over some 40+ years (?) of a successful program, it should not be a stretch to at least correlate the model for  research...Especially so since the USDA keeps records & schools in 40 states are also using the Farm to School program (our school district does in repub land).

    What is the Farm to School program? This program was established to help provide healthy and nutritious food to school children while also providing local farmers with consistent and dependable outlets for their products. The Farm to School program started in 1996 as a grassroots movement and now has over 2,000 active programs in 40 states. The farm to school program also plays on the trend of locally grown food. According to the Farm Bill, a local food is a product that is raised, produced, distributed, and transported within 400 miles of its origin.

    How does this benefit the children? The farm to school program gives school children a chance to experience locally grown fresh and nutritious produce. The children also get an opportunity to learn about what is produced locally throughout the year and taste some of the best quality produce locally offered.

    Another resource is the No Kid Hungry initiative.

    Seems to me that those who want to end SNAP or just "do not get it" need to take a look at various programs & get some factoids straight about hunger in America & the effect on the collective future....(Argh!)  The data is out there...

    And yet, even with diverse (scattered) resources, it is still not enough to feed our hungry & to me this is a national shame & a blight on the souls of all who do not see and/or try to obstruct. (Argh again)

    •  another great comment. :) (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      worldlotus, mjbleo

      Yes, there is research showing the link between education and hunger, health and hunger, etc. The thing is, until the research mentioned above, there was not a good look at SNAP as a way to improve health (which then would have an impact on education.) Since the kids on SNAP have, on average, poorer health than their peers, difficulty with data made it hard to show the positive effect of SNAP.


      I get to choose, and I choose love.

      by Melanie in IA on Thu Jan 17, 2013 at 04:35:19 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Wonder why it took so long to initiate "research" (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Melanie in IA, mjbleo
        The thing is, until the research mentioned above, there was not a good look at SNAP as a way to improve health (which then would have an impact on education.)

        And, I can fully understand empirical data collection would be difficult at best considering the wide demographics & mitigating factors of those using SNAP:

        Since the kids on SNAP have, on average, poorer health than their peers, difficulty with data made it hard to show the positive effect of SNAP.
        But.  I guess I was thinking that there is already evidence out there (citing the free breakfast/lunch program for one example).  I know I have a bunch of research collected over past 40 years that points to the benefits of the programs in terms of developmental/educational impacts.  Just cannot pull it from outraged post op fuzz brain.  

        Also cannot understand why it is not obvious to those who have access to history or those who want to cut or bemoan programs such as WIC/SNAP.

        Being cynical here, I suppose before too long they will have tons of comparison models as more & more turn to these programs for assistance....

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