Panel Paper: Food Insecurity Across the First Five Years: Triggers of Onset and Exit

Thursday, November 8, 2012 : 1:15 PM
Pratt A (Sheraton Baltimore City Center Hotel)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Alison Jacknowitz, Taryn Morrissey and Andrew Brannegan, American University

In 2010, approximately 10 percent of households with children were classified as experiencing very low or low food security among children (Nord et al., 2011). Developmental psychology theory and research emphasize the importance of early experiences for children’s development; hence, the consequences of food insecurity cannot be overlooked. Yet little is known about factors related to food insecurity during the early childhood period. This study will address these gaps in the literature by examining the predictors of the entry into and exit from food insecurity over the first five years of life, including triggers such as changes in employment, income, household composition, parental and child health, and residential moves. Specifically, the study seeks to: (1) document the patterns of food insecurity among young children from birth to five years of age; and (2) understand the triggers or shocks that explain entry into or exit from food insecurity among children from birth to five years of age.

The analysis relies on data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Birth Cohort (ECLS-B), a longitudinal, nationally representative dataset of births in 2001, which follows children from birth to kindergarten entry. Data used in this study were collected when children were 9 months, two years, four years, and five years of age. Information on child-level food insecurity from the 18-item food insecurity scale, as well as a wealth of family and child characteristics, was collected at each time point. To investigate the triggers predicting entry into and exit from food insecurity, two linear probability models are estimated. In the first model, which investigates the entry into food insecurity, the dependent variable captures whether a child transitioned from food security to low or very low food security between waves of data. In the second model, which examines the exit from food insecurity, the dependent variable is whether the child transitioned from low or very low food security to food secure.

Preliminary results suggest decreases in income and the number of adults in the household predict movement into food insecurity among children. The onset of maternal depression and a change in residence are also associated with movement into food insecurity. By contrast, increases in income and the number of adults predict exit from food insecurity among children. Additionally, decreases in the number of children (i.e., children aging into adulthood), recovering from maternal depression, and moving residences are also associated with exiting food insecurity.

In sum, results suggest that, as expected, changes in income, maternal depression, and the number of adults, presumably income earners, are associated with transitioning into and out of food insecurity. Residential instability is also associated with frequent movements in and out of food insecurity. Future analyses will examine the characteristics of neighborhoods children move among. Results from this study will help nutrition assistance programs target parents and their children when they are most at risk of experiencing food insecurity, and will inform program design to provide parents with strategies to cope with food insecurity.