Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Panel Paper: Patterns and Predictors of Food Assistance and Food Insecurity Across Early Childhood

Friday, November 13, 2015 : 9:30 AM
Merrick I (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Anna J. Markowitz1, Anna D. Johnson1 and Rachel Gordon2, (1)Georgetown University, (2)University of Illinois, Chicago
Researchers from economics to neuroscience now agree that a child’s early years (birth-five) lay the foundation for all subsequent development (Knudsen, Heckman, Cameron, & Shonkoff, 2006). Thus it is not surprising that food insecurity experienced during these sensitive early years exerts especially negative impacts on children’s cognitive and social readiness for kindergarten (Johnson & Markowitz, 2014). This is especially true for children in low-income families, who disproportionately experience both food insecurity and reduced school readiness (Coleman-Jensen, Gregory, & Singh, 2014; Duncan & Magnuson, 2011). Given that gaps in school readiness at the kindergarten door portend later gaps in academic success (Lee & Burkam, 2002), it is urgent to identify a range of strategies for reducing these early disparities. One potent option may be reducing childhood food insecurity.

A number of public food assistance (FA) programs aim to reduce food insecurity and increase intake of nutritious foods among low-income families with children. These programs include the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program [SNAP], the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children [WIC], and the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP). Although a substantial body of research has identified links between participation in each of these FA programs or a combinations of two (commonly WIC and SNAP) and food insecurity, to our knowledge no studies have explored how families with young children combine these programs across their children’s early years and whether and how certain combinations, more than others, associate with patterns of food insecurity.

To address this unanswered question, we use data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study – Birth Cohort (ECLS-B), the first nationally representative U.S. study to follow a cohort of children from birth to school entry. At each of the study’s 4 waves (when children were 9-months, 2 years, 4 years, and 5 or 6 years old), parents were interviewed about their participation in public FA programs and children were directly assessed. Additionally, across all waves parents completed all 18 items of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Core Food Security Module (CFSM), the industry standard for measuring food insecurity.

To identify patterns of multiple FA program use across early childhood, we use latent class analysis (LCA). Preliminary results using this method suggest a 6-class solution: low-income families who (1) never use any FA; (2) intermittently use SNAP only; (3) intermittently use WIC and/or CACFP only; (4) consistently use SNAP only; (5) consistently use WIC and/or CACFP only; and (6) consistently use at least one program across all study waves (SNAP; WIC and/or CACFP). Next steps include using LCA to identify profiles of food insecurity across early childhood, and then examining how FA profiles correlate with profiles of food insecurity. We will go on to investigate common predictors of both FA and food insecurity profiles, which will highlight for whom multiple FA program use may be most effective at reducing food insecurity.

Findings are expected to inform the targeting of public investments in FA programming aimed to reduce food insecurity and, ultimately, to close school readiness gaps.