Orwell Award Announcement SusanOhanian.Org Home

Half of American Children Receive Food Stamps

Susan Notes:

You can quote it: Adults who grew up in poverty are more likely to have impaired physical and mental growth, lower academic achievement, and to remain impoverished.

Approximately 90 000 childhood years of information are pooled together to create a series of life tables that span the ages of 1 to 20 years.

Conclusions: American children are at a high risk of encountering a spell during which their families are in poverty and food insecure as indicated through their use of food stamps. Such events have the potential to seriously jeopardize a child's overall health.

By Chris Emery

Many American children live in households that receive food stamps, an indicator of the kind of poverty and food insecurity that can seriously jeopardize a child's overall health, a new study found.

Nearly half (49.2%) of American children will, at some point between the ages of 1 and 20, reside in a house that receives food stamps, according to a report in the Nov. 2 issue of the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

More than a quarter of American children (26.1%) will receive food stamps by the age of 5, the study found.

"Such children are by definition experiencing poverty and are also quite likely to encounter food insecurity as well," Mark R. Rank, PhD, of Washington University, and Thomas A. Hirschl, PhD, of Cornell University, wrote.

"The consequence is that children in such households frequently face dietary and nutritional problems, along with a variety of challenges and stressors that accompany poverty."

Previous research has repeatedly shown that a lack of food during childhood is linked to iron deficiency, undernutrition, and lack of dietary balance, and that poor children are more likely to suffer a range of health problems, including low birth weight, lead poisoning, delayed immunization, dental problems, and accidental death.

Adults who grew up in poverty are more likely to have impaired physical and mental growth, lower academic achievement, and to remain impoverished.

The U.S. Food Stamp program is designed to provide households with gross incomes of up to 130 percent of the poverty line with coupons or electronic credits good for the purchase of basic foodstuffs. Currently, a household of four with a gross income of up to $2,389 per month may qualify, but eligibility varies based on household size, expenses, disabilities, and other factors.

Rank and Hirschl analyzed 30 years of longitudinal data from a nationally representative sample of the U.S. population, the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, which began in 1968 with 18,000 individuals.

The PSID study conducted household interviews annually between 1968 and 1997, collecting demographic data and other information regarding children ages 1 through 20, including whether families had received food stamps during the prior year.

The researchers found that the proportion of U.S. children who received food stamps was 12.1% at age 1 year, 26.1% by age 5, 35.9% by age 10, 43.6% by age 15, and 49.2% by age 20.

Most households that received food stamps did so several times. However, families typically only use food stamps for short periods, and only 19% of American children will live in a household that uses food stamps for three or more consecutive years.

The study also found that race, parental education, and head-of-household's marital status played a strong role in determining the proportion of children residing in a food stamp household.

Among white children who lived in a home where the head of the household was married and had 12 or more years of education, 20% received food stamps by age 20. In contrast, among black children with unmarried heads-of-household who had less than 12 years of education, 97% received food stamps.

The researchers noted that the sample size did not allow for any racial comparisons to be made beyond those of black and white participants, and that the PSID is not representative of the U.S. immigrant population.

They also cautioned that their measure of food stamp use only accounted for whether a family had used food stamps in the previous year, not for how many months they'd received food stamps.

In an accompanying editorial, Paul H. Wise, MD, MPH, of Stanford University, wrote that the results of the new study are alarming, given the current economic climate and the worsening inability of the government to meet the needs of impoverished children.

"The bottom line is that the current recession is likely to generate for children in the U.S. the greatest level of material deprivation that we will see in our professional lifetimes," he wrote.

"The recession is harming children by both reducing the earning power of their parents and the capacity of the safety net to respond. However, it is also essential to recognize that children have been made extremely vulnerable to this recession by a decades-long deterioration in their social position."

In response, he wrote, the pediatric community will have to determine how to address the enhanced needs of patients, strengthen its capability to take collective action, and strive to influence policy decisions that impact the health of impoverished children.

"Pediatricians should also seek out new and better ways to support their colleagues working in communities hit hardest by the recession," he wrote.

"There can be no meaningful excuse for allowing clinicians caring for the neediest patients to struggle in isolation. This will demand greater regional responses in which private practices, hospitals, academic departments, public clinics, and community agencies come together to plan, coordinate, and ultimately provide adequate local services."

Press Release
Washington University in St. Louis

By Jessica Martin

Holidays and tables full of delicious food usually go hand in hand, but for nearly half of the children in the United States, this is not guaranteed.

"49 percent of all U.S. children will be in a household that uses food stamps at some point during their childhood," says Mark R. Rank, Ph.D., poverty expert at the George Warren Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis. "Food stamp use is a clear sign of poverty and food insecurity, two of the most detrimental economic conditions affecting a child's health."

According to Rank, the substantial risk of a child being in a family that uses food stamps is consistent with a wider body of research demonstrating that U.S. children face considerable economic risk throughout their childhood years. "Rather than being a time of security and safety, the childhood years for many American children are a time of economic turmoil, risk, and hardship," Rank says.

Staggering food stamp figures across the United States Nearly half of all U.S. children will be in a household that uses food stamps at some point during their childhood, according to Mark Rank, Ph.D., poverty expert at the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis. Rank says the substantial risk of a child being in a family that uses food stamps is consistent with a wider body of research demonstrating that U.S. children face considerable economic risk during their childhood years.
Slow connection? Try our low bandwidth version. | Find more videos in the Video Newsroom.

Rank's study, "Estimating the Risk of Food Stamp Use and Impoverishment During Childhood," is published in the current issue of the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. Other study findings include:

ΓΆ€ΒΆ 90 percent of black children will be in a household that uses food stamps. This compares to 37 percent of white children.

ΓΆ€ΒΆ Nearly one-quarter of all American children will be in households that use food stamps for five or more years during childhood.

ΓΆ€ΒΆ 91 percent of children with single parents will be in a household receiving food stamps, compared to 37 percent of children in married households.

ΓΆ€ΒΆ Looking at race, marital status and education simultaneously, children who are black and whose head of household is not married with less than 12 years of education have a cumulative percentage of residing in a food stamp household of 97 percent by age 10.

"Understanding the degree to which American children are exposed to the risks of poverty and food insecurity across childhood is essential information for the health care and social service communities," Rank says. "Even limited exposure to poverty can have detrimental effects upon a child's overall quality of health and well-being."

The study, co-authored with Thomas Hirschl, professor at Cornell University, is based on an analysis of 30 years of information taken from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID), and looks at children between the ages of 1 and 20. The PSID is a longitudinal survey of a representative sample of U.S. individuals and their families interviewed annually since 1968.

Editor's Note: Mark Rank is available for live or taped interviews using Washington University's free VYVX or ISDN lines. Please contact Jessica Martin at (314) 935-5251 or jessica_martin@wustl.edu for assistance.

— Chris Emery
MedPage Today & Press Release


This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of education issues vital to a democracy. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information click here. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.