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

Panel Paper: Household Food Insecurity and Young Immigrant Children's Health and Development Outcomes

Saturday, November 14, 2015 : 8:30 AM
Stanford (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Ying Huang1, Stephanie Potochnick2 and Colleen Heflin2, (1)University at Albany - SUNY, (2)University of Missouri, Columbia
Food insecurity remains a consistent problem in the United States. Recent studies have shown that children of immigrants experience higher levels of food insecurity than children of US-born parents following welfare reform. A large number of studies find that food insecurity has a wide range of deleterious effects on children’s development in early childhood. Compared to children in food secure household, children with food insecurity are disadvantaged in various developmental outcomes, including cognitive skills, psychosocial well-being, and internalized behavioral problems. Moreover, these negative consequences of food insecurity persist even in later life.

Despite the large and growing body of literature on food insecurity and its negative effects on child development, research has yet to thoroughly examine the specific consequences for children of immigrants. Making up over one in four of all US children, children of immigrants compared to non-immigrants are more likely to be poor (21% vs. 15%) and to experience higher rates of food insecurity (25% vs. 21%). Prior research using localized data indicates that food insecurity is more detrimental for low-income immigrant children’s overall health than non-immigrant children. Research, however, has yet to examine whether these trends persist nationally and whether they extend to other developmental domains, mainly cognitive and socio-emotional behavioral development.  Immigrant children are known to face both risk (e.g., language barriers; exclusion from safety net supports; lower SES) and protective factors (e.g., strong family support; resilience and optimism) that could either exacerbate or mitigate the deleterious effects of food insecurity on child development.

In this study, we use multivariate regression models and data on pre-school aged youth from the Early Childhood of Longitudinal Study—Birth Cohort (ECLS-B) to assess whether there is a nativity disparity in the relationship between household food insecurity and three different dimensions of child development, including cognitive development (reading and math test scores), socio-emotional/behavior (positive behavioral score), and overall health (parent-reported health). We assess how known immigrant risk and protective factors related to family characteristics and safety net usage may contribute to the differential consequences of food insecurity with special emphasis on the role of maternal depression.  

Preliminary results indicate that food insecurity is negatively associated with all domains of child development but not equally for children of immigrants and non-immigrants and that the pattern differs across development domains. For both cognitive and socio-emotional/behavioral development, food insecurity is more negatively associated with child development for non-immigrant children than immigrant children. The reverse is true for overall health where food insecurity is more negatively associated with parent-reported health for children of immigrants than non-immigrants. These differing patterns align with the risk and protective perspective of immigrant children and call for food security supports that meet their specific needs. Our analysis advances our understanding of nativity differences in the developmental consequences of food insecurity, and provides insights that help inform policy and interventions that advance young immigrant children’s well-being.