Food Insecurity and Food Assistance: Impacts on Children, Parents, and Preschool Experiences
(Family and Child Policy)
*Names in bold indicate Presenter
Food insecurity and the food assistance programs designed to reduce it are currently occupying center stage in national policy conversations. On one end, food insecurity–particularly among households with children–has been recognized as a public health crisis: nearly 1 out of every 4 households with children has experienced food insecurity. At the same time, there are active policy debates about the future of the U.S. food safety net, including the implementation of stricter eligibility requirements, which could reduce the number of children and families served. The proposed panel will inform these contemporary conversations by bringing new evidence on the potential impacts of food insecurity on children and families, alongside evidence of the role of food assistance receipt for ameliorating these negative outcomes. The proposed papers are led by scholars from diverse disciplines – from public policy to psychology to sociology to education – and use a range of methods and data sources. The populations studied are also diverse, ranging from young children birth to age 5, to children in elementary school, to adolescents, and finally to adult parents.
The first 3 papers focus on food insecurity and its negative impacts on parents and children from early childhood through adolescence. Paper 1 builds on emerging research linking household food insecurity to a host of negative child and family wellbeing outcomes in a sample of young children (birth to age 5) to understand the mediating roles of parent wellbeing, parenting quality, and preschool characteristics in explaining food insecurity impacts on children’s kindergarten skills. Paper 2 focuses on children in early elementary school to examine the prevalence of food insecurity among families with children with disabilities, and how food insecurity relates to children’s outcomes in this “doubly vulnerable” population of food insecure households with children with disabilities. Paper 3 uses data from North Carolina to explore associations between static and changing food insecurity and adolescent and parent mental health outcomes, extending this examination to test whether parental mental health mediates associations between food insecurity and adolescent mental health.
Paper 4 turns to policy solutions designed to reduce food insecurity among households with young children, focusing on one of the two key programs that constitute the food safety net for families: the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). The authors use national data and sibling fixed effects models to estimate impacts of WIC receipt during early childhood (birth to age 5) on children’s cognitive and behavioral problems in middle childhood (ages 5-10).
Given the breadth of these papers and their timeliness in light of current policy debates around modifying food assistance programs, a lively question-and-answer session is expected. Dr. Barbara Fiese, Director of Professor of Human Development & Family Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Director of its Family Resiliency Center, will provide discussant comments. Dr. Fiese has published widely on food insecurity and its effects on child wellbeing, and the role of food assistance programming, family routines, and mealtime in ameliorating those negative impacts.