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Key Factors for School-Based Food Pantries: Perspectives From Food Bank and School Pantry Personnel

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The objective of this qualitative study was to identify what school and food bank personnel report as key factors for a successful school-based food pantry program.In-depth interviews were conducted with food bank employees and school pantry personnel to gain an understanding of school food pantry operations. School pantry success was fostered by healthy relationships between schools and food banks, program marketing, convenience, supportive school staff, and adequate operating budgets. School pantries are perceived as a key component in reducing childhood hunger. An understanding of these programs is important for researchers and practitioners concerned about hunger and academic success.
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Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition
ISSN: 1932-0248 (Print) 1932-0256 (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/when20
Key Factors for School-Based Food Pantries:
Perspectives From Food Bank and School Pantry
Personnel
Anastasia Snelling, Maya Maroto, Alison Jacknowitz & Elaine Waxman
To cite this article: Anastasia Snelling, Maya Maroto, Alison Jacknowitz & Elaine Waxman
(2014) Key Factors for School-Based Food Pantries: Perspectives From Food Bank and
School Pantry Personnel, Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition, 9:3, 350-361, DOI:
10.1080/19320248.2014.929549
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/19320248.2014.929549
Published online: 25 Aug 2014.
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Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition, 9:350–361, 2014
Copyright © Taylor & Francis Group, LLC
ISSN: 1932-0248 print/1932-0256 online
DOI: 10.1080/19320248.2014.929549
Key Factors for School-Based Food Pantries:
Perspectives From Food Bank and School
Pantry Personnel
ANASTASIA SNELLING,1MAYA MAROTO,2
ALISON JACKNOWITZ,3and ELAINE WAXMAN4
1School of Education, Teaching, and Health, American University, Washington, D.C., USA
2Maryland University, Laurel, Maryland, USA
3School of Public Affairs, American University, Washington, D.C., USA
4Feeding America, Chicago, Illinois, USA
The objective of this qualitative study was to identify what school
and food bank personnel report as key factors for a successful
school-based food pantry program.
In-depth interviews were conducted with food bank employees
and school pantry personnel to gain an understanding of school
food pantry operations. School pantry success was fostered by
healthy relationships between schools and food banks, program
marketing, convenience, supportive school staff, and adequate
operating budgets. School pantries are perceived as a key compo-
nent in reducing childhood hunger. An understanding of these
programs is important for researchers and practitioners concerned
about hunger and academic success.
KEYWORDS school pantry programs, hunger, food insecurity
INTRODUCTION
The United States provides an abundant food supply, yet in 2011 approx-
imately 50 million children, adults, and seniors resided in households that
struggled to obtain enough food.1The prevalence of food insecurity among
Address correspondence to Anastasia Snelling, American University, School of Education,
Teaching, and Health, 4400 Massachusetts Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20016-8030, USA.
E-mail: Stacey@american.edu
Color versions of one or more of the figures in the article can be found online at
www.tandfonline.com/when.
350
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School-Based Food Pantries 351
children and adults rose dramatically as a result of the US economic down-
turn and has since persisted at high levels.25Food insecurity refers to limited
access to adequate food due to a lack of money and other resources,2
affecting 15.8% of households with children in 20073and rising to20.6%
of households with children by 2011.4Food insecurity is even more pro-
nounced in female-headed households with children, where 36.8% of such
households are food insecure.5The current level of food insecurity is the
highest level recorded since data collection began in 1995. Reducing food
insecurity is a national priority for the US Department of Health and Human
Services as outlined in the Healthy People 2020 goals. Healthy People 2020
states that food insecurity should be reduced to 6% of American households
by 2020.6
Food insecurity is of particular concern for school-aged children, who
are more likely to suffer from a number of challenges to their health
and well-being. Studies have found that food insecure children are more
likely to have poor health, iron deficiency, anxiety, depression, behav-
ioral issues, psychosocial issues, and impaired academic performance.712
Reducing or eliminating food insecurity is considered to be a key predeces-
sor of allowing children to reach their full academic and social potential. The
federal government invests in programs to address childhood food insecurity
including The United States Department of Agriculture Special Supplemental
Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, the National School
Lunch Program, and the School Breakfast Program.13 Additionally, the private
and nonprofit sectors provide a network of food banks and food pantries that
distribute billions of pounds of food to those in need each year.
Feeding America is the nation’s largest hunger-relief charity and dis-
tributes 3 billion pounds to an estimated 37 million Americans in need
annually through an extensive network of food banks and food pantries.14
Feeding America has developed food pantry programs located in schools,
which have experienced tremendous growth in recent years; in both school-
based pantry programs and food distribution. School-based programs are a
unique opportunity to reach households with children who face issues of
food insecurity. Given the success of school-based food pantry programs,
Feeding America recognized the importance of understanding the practices
commonly used to operate school pantries.
The objective of this study was to identify what school and food bank
personnel report as key factors for a successful school-based food pantry
program.
METHODS
This study investigated the administration and management of school-based
food pantries through in-depth interviews targeting food bank and school
pantry staff. Eight school-based food pantries were selected for the study
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352 A. Snelling et al.
based on the variety of distribution models (mobile market, permanent
space, or prebagged/boxed) operated at each site along with the willing-
ness of the school administration to participate in and accommodate the
needs of the researchers. Table 1 describes the delivery service models. Three
Feeding America food banks served these school pantries. The schools had
been operating their food pantries from 9 months to 2 years. Of the schools
visited, the percentage of students eligible for free or reduced price lunch
ranged from 75% to 96%.
The survey was designed to understand practices commonly used to
operate school pantries and their relationship to client satisfaction. Interview
topics included the pantry’s history, delivery service models, types of food
distributed, reach of the pantry, school receptivity to food pantry program,
and recommendations for improving services. The interview questions were
pretested at a fourth food bank and minor revisions were made based on
corresponding feedback. The University’s Institutional Review Board granted
approval for this study.
Data collection was done by in-person visits to the selected school
pantries and food banks. Fifteen in-depth audiotaped interviews were
conducted with school-based food pantry personnel, including 7 school
employees (social worker, counselor, school nurse, school/community coor-
dinator, or school clerk), 4 administrators (principal or vice principal),
3 volunteers, and one teacher. In addition, 6 in-depth interviews were con-
ducted with food bank staff, including nutrition program managers, child
hunger specialists, and program coordinators. Each interview was conducted
by a trained researcher (college professor or graduate student employee) and
lasted approximately 45 to 60 minutes. Each interviewee was compensated
with a $20 gift card. To analyze qualitative data, the audio recordings of
the in-depth interviews were transcribed, analyzed, and coded to identify
common themes and key points. The transcripts were analyzed and coded
by 2 different faculty researchers who cross-checked their coding to ensure
reliability.
RESULTS
Characteristics of Successful Food Pantries
School pantry and food bank interviewees described several characteristics of
successful and sustainable food pantries. The interviewees perceived success
as delivering culturally appropriate, healthy foods to families on a consistent
basis and in a manner that supports client dignity. Interviewees also defined
successful pantries as those that reach a majority of their target population.
Another dimension of a successful pantry, as described in the interviews,
was the ability to help build relationships between recipient families and
facilitating relationships between recipients and school personnel. School
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TABLE 1 Strengths and Challenges of Delivery Service Models
Model Strengths Challenges
Mobile market/client choice
combination model
May allow for distribution of perishable
items.
Requires clients to come during set hours
of distribution, which may be difficult.
School does not have to have any food
storage space available.
Requires more staffing and volunteers on
site than preboxed/prebagged.
Clients choose their own food, thus
increasing client autonomy and cutting
down on food waste.
May be a slower method of distribution.
Allows school to develop relationships
with clients.
Allows clients to connect with one
another.
Permanent space/client choice
model
Clients choose their own food, thus
increasing client autonomy and cutting
down on food waste.
School must have storage space because
food is left on site.
Perishable items are often not distributed
due to lack of access to refrigeration.Allows school to develop relationships
with clients.
Allows for flexible pickup times so
parents are not required to get food
during a short time window.
Prebagged/preboxed model Allows for flexible pickup times so
parents are not required to get food
during a short time window.
School may have to store or distribute
leftover food after the distribution
period.
Ensures that all families receive the same
food—described as being more “fair.”
Clients usually do not have to wait in
line because food can be distributed
very quickly and discretely.
Described as easier to administer by
school coordinators and some food
banks.
May diminish client dignity by taking
away sense of choice.
Clients who take prepackaged
bags/boxes containing items they do
not want may waste food.
Large bags/boxes of food may be
difficult for some clients to transport.
Limited ability to distribute perishable
items.
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354 A. Snelling et al.
food pantry personnel were often described as helping to build commu-
nity around the schools by inviting parents as recipients and volunteers.
School pantry programs were universally described as a point of pride for the
schools and were perceived as programs that help support student learning.
In order to reach this vision of “success,” several factors were perceived
by school pantry and food bank personnel to be paramount. Those factors
include a healthy relationship between the food bank and school pantry;
programs that were well marketed, visible, and convenient for the target
population; supportive school principals and volunteers; high-quality food;
and an adequate operating budget. Each of those themes will be discussed
in the following sections.
To be successful, we must effectively reach the community, raise aware-
ness, keep it relevant, stay relevant, bring nutrition education, keep the
experience fun and keep it as a distribution with dignity. (Food bank
staff, June, 2012)
Food Bank and School Pantry Relationship
The food bank and school pantry relationship was reported to be critical for
the success of reaching pantry clients and delivering high-quality food on
a consistent basis. Numerous steps are involved in the food distribution at
a school pantry, including receiving food at the food bank; ordering food
for the school site; repackaging and delivering food for the school; and dis-
tributing food to families. Numerous interviewees indicated the importance
of food bank and school pantry communication in order to tailor food pantry
logistics and the types of foods that are most popular among the recipient
population.
Food bank and school pantry interviewees conveyed the importance of
clearly defined responsibilities between the school pantry and food bank.
Interviewees stressed the importance of effective coordination and frequent
communication to ensure a high-quality food distribution program. One area
that needs clear delineation is the process of food ordering. In 2 of the 3 food
banks visited, the food banks ordered the food. At the third food bank, the
schools controlled the responsibility of food ordering. This quote from a
food bank interviewee illustrates the importance of communication between
the food banks and school pantries.
The success of the pantry relies on strong communication with the key
players—we need advocates at the school on a daily basis. It can be easy
to prioritize other things that are talked about on a daily basis; if it [school
pantry] can become part of the school culture that they embrace and see
it as a service they provide to their community, utilize and incorporate
other education opportunities. (Food bank staff)
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School-Based Food Pantries 355
School Pantry Marketing and Awareness
According to the in-depth interviews with school pantry and food bank staff,
some programs have increased overall awareness of the pantry with effective
marketing campaigns that utilize strategically timed phone calls to families,
fliers in children’s backpacks, parent meetings, and monthly newsletters
with the dates of the school pantry distributions listed on the school cal-
endar. School interviewees stressed the importance of marketing the pantry
constantly because many schools have high (up to 50% in an academic
year) student turnover rates. It is also important to involve teachers and
school employees to effectively communicate the purpose and availability
of the pantry to parents and caregivers. A final theme related to marketing
in schools serving multicultural populations was the importance of having
communications available in multiple languages. For example, one school
believed that a key to increasing participation was having automated phone
calls go out to all student households in English and a second language, if
necessary.
We have a flier that we give to everyone that registers with all the dates
on it for the year and we put it in the school calendar that everyone
gets. On the month that it’s happening, I send a flier with each student.
We also do a phone call to each family in Somali and English. (School
pantry volunteer)
Program Visibility and Accessibility
Many school pantry interviewees discussed the benefits of locating the pantry
in a place where clients are able to see food distributions. Contrary to pop-
ular belief, interviewees stated that pantries are more successful when they
are a visible part of the school community; this increases social acceptance
and creates a sense of community around the pantry. These quotes are from
interviewees highlighting the important role of school pantries in building
community and connections.
Stigma—but not the typical conversation around stigma—not just that
people won’t want to come if people know they are coming. That’s not
true, a lot of our participants love our pantry because it is a community
event and they go and feel like they are not the only ones who are
struggling so there is a kind of camaraderie there. So sometimes making
it more visible can be a pro, not a con. (Food bank interviewee)
Parents connect with other parents. Normally poverty can be so isolating.
(School pantry interviewee)
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356 A. Snelling et al.
It has brought a lot more parents together. It has put a lot more smiles
on their faces and it has taken a lot of stress off parents when they are
struggling in certain parts of the month. (School pantry interviewee)
Responsiveness to Pantry Recipients’ Scheduling Needs
Many school food pantry interviewees reported that the hours of food dis-
tribution are an important factor impacting pantry utilization. School pantry
interviewees indicated that it is often difficult to schedule distributions at
times that work for the clients, school pantry volunteers, and food bank
employees. Pantry hours may interfere with parents’ work schedules, or
clients may need daycare services for their children while they attend a
distribution. One response to this challenge is to combine the distribu-
tion with another school event. Some schools reported that combining
a distribution with another event can increase participation, particularly
among parents who may not have been likely to attend a distribution
otherwise. However, other schools reported that not having a distribu-
tion on the same night each month can create a lack of consistency and
make it more difficult for some participants to plan their attendance. Some
schools were very cognizant of the struggles many families face near the
end of the month and scheduled their distributions strategically to help
families when their home food and financial resources are low. The fol-
lowing quotes illustrate these sentiments, which were a theme in multiple
interviews.
What we found out when we started interviewing parents is that they
would really like to have it [the pantry] on the same night same time
every month. (Food bank staff)
I arranged it on our calendar. The third Tuesday of every month—I do
that so I get the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. We do the third week
of the month because assistance money is usually running out by then.
(School pantry staff)
School Pantry Personnel and Volunteers
Food bank and school pantry interviewees expressed that school pantries
require a dedicated team of people in the school, including administrators,
school employees, and volunteers to support their missions and operations.
Several interviewees indicated that the support of the principal is key to the
success of the pantry. Effective principal support of the pantry can come in
the form of the principal’s name on newsletters, reminder phone calls from
the principal to give the program additional credibility, and a dedicated team
appointed by the principal to oversee pantry operations.
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School-Based Food Pantries 357
Even though the principal isn’t involved, she’s completely supportive.
(School pantry staff)
We work with a lot of principals and vice principals and counselor type
positions. Some are teachers as well, at one school there is actually a
nurse. But to some degree or another we work with the principal at
every school to ensure they are on board though they might not be the
direct point of contact. (Food bank staff)
It’s also completely essential to have the school recruit volunteers and
things like that. ...I think what really makes a school pantry successful
is community involvement, especially parent involvement. (Food bank
staff)
One thing we learned ...if you don’t have a strong partnership with the
school and you don’t have buy in from the administration, it’s really hard
to do it [operate the pantry]. (Food bank staff)
High-Quality Food and Client Experience
Many of the food bank and school pantry interviewees mentioned having
pantry personnel who are sensitive to community members’ needs max-
imizes pantry success. This sensitivity can come in the form of parent
volunteers who mirror the demographic characteristics of the recipient pop-
ulation, attention to the food preferences of the client group, or efforts
to create positive client experiences at each pantry visit. The interviewees
expressed a strong desire to make the pantry experience positive and even
“family-like” for clients in order to boost participation.
The second year the food pantry really boomed and took off because
we got to know more of the parents and that’s what I love. I know a lot
of the parents on their first name. I know a lot of their kids. The other
parents know the parents and their kids know their kids and it brings
them together and they interact more and they flow better you know,
because it’s not just a school, it’s a second family for them. (School pantry
staff)
I think it is important to have a pantry that is consistent and has a good
selection of food items that families might not normally purchase and in
my mind a lot of times that’s fresh produce and some of the more expen-
sive protein type items. And that is open consistent hours so whether that
is once a week or bi-weekly but families know that it is a reliable source
of food for them if they need it to be. (Food bank staff)
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358 A. Snelling et al.
Budgetary Constraints
In some schools, the food ordered did not meet the needs of the number
of eligible families. Due to budgetary limitations, the selection process to
determine who received the services became one based on perceived need
and who the school coordinators believed could benefit the most from the
pantry services. Some schools served families on a rotational basis, alternat-
ing between groups of families, and others maintained limited lists of families
who are notified about the pantry.
Other ideas related to budgetary constraints, included lacking the ability
to provide transportation for families or daycare services to allow families
to utilize pantries. Several locations expressed an interest in initiating or
expanding those services but could not do so because of budgetary limita-
tions. Other schools mentioned smaller items, such as food distribution bags,
that were difficult to obtain due to their budgets.
Food pantries aren’t by nature sustainable; you have to put money in
them to get food there. We have to engage donors and rally them around
this issue in a sustained way. Funding sustainability is probably the most
important. (Food bank staff)
DISCUSSION
The in-depth interviews with school pantry and food bank personnel indicate
that a number of factors are paramount to the success of school-based food
pantries (Figure 1).
Schools and food banks should consider their own resources and
their client populations when initiating a school food pantry. Schools and
food banks have a shared responsibility to ensure clear and consistent
communication related to school food pantry operations.
Food banks must work with schools to clearly delineate responsibilities
for ordering high-quality food consistent with the Dietary Guidelines for
Americans, setting up for distributions, marketing the program, and assisting
with the recruitment and management of volunteers to ensure smooth pantry
operations.
Schools have a responsibility to take the lead on marketing the pantries
through phone calls, fliers, teachers, staff, and students. Schools also need
to ensure that they have a supportive principal and a cadre of staff and
volunteers to administer the program. Schools should also consider raising
the visibility of their programs and take into careful consideration what days
and times of food distribution will work best for the recipients as well as the
school personnel and food bank staff.
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School-Based Food Pantries 359
FIGURE 1 Contributors to successful school pantry program from sample of 6 food bank and
15 food pantry interviews.
Creating a sense of community through marketing efforts and volun-
teer participation is beneficial for reducing possible stigmas associated with
receiving aid and encourage individuals to partake in the benefits of food
bank programs to reduce food insecurity.
Limitations
This study has several methodological limitations. First, the study was only
conducted at 3 geographic locations and cannot be considered a nationally
representative study. The number of interviews conducted at each site was
also limited.
IMPLICATIONS FOR RESEARCH AND PRACTICE
Future program evaluations conducted by both researchers and practitioners
should be an ongoing process and conducted at multiple points throughout
the year to prospectively examine school food pantry operations and learn
from changes implemented throughout the school year. School food pantry
operations could also be examined with additional qualitative interviews with
pantry recipients to gain a deeper understanding of their experience with
the programs. Finally, longitudinal studies examining the impact of school
based food pantries on food insecurity are warranted to assess the impact of
the programs on this important determinant of child health and well-being,
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360 A. Snelling et al.
including the impact on child and household food security. School pantry
programs are perceived as a key component reducing childhood hunger
and boosting student learning. A thorough understanding of these programs
is important for researchers and practitioners concerned about child food
insecurity and academic success.
In terms of support services, it [school pantry] is a pretty high priority
because food is basic. Kids who are hungry can’t learn very well. Families
who are hungry ...that’s hard. (School pantry staff)
It is a high priority—if the children are hungry they are not going to
learn. All of our students get free lunch but some students go home and
do not have food at home. (School pantry staff)
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
Thanks to Stephanie Sunderlin for her careful reviewing and editing of this
article and Sarah Kalamchi for her work during data collection.
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... Food pantry managers in other settings in the United States also reported small budgets, limited storage space, and donor relations as challenges to their operations. 23,24 In a study of Minnesota food pantries, the lack of healthy-donated foods in the hunger relief system was also a barrier to providing clients with healthy options. 25 The majority of pantries in this study distributed uniform, pre-assembled bags of food rather than allowing clients to select products, due to concerns about fairness, limited space and time, causing confusion or chaos, and people entering the facility. ...
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An estimated 85.1 percent of American households were food secure throughout the entire year in 2011, meaning that they had access at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members. The remaining households (14.9 percent) were food insecure at least some time during the year, including 5.7 percent with very low food security-meaning that the food intake of one or more household members was reduced and their eating patterns were disrupted at times during the year because the household lacked money and other resources for food. The prevalence rate of very low food security increased from 5.4 percent in 2010, returning to the level observed in 2008 and 2009. The change in food insecurity overall (from 14.5 percent in 2010) was not statistically significant. The typical food-secure household spent 24 percent more on food than the typical food-insecure household of the same size and household composition. Fifty-seven percent of all food-insecure households participated in one or more of the three largest Federal food and nutrition assistance programs during the month prior to the 2011 survey.
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Recommendations for adult physical activity have shifted from 20 to 60 minutes of continuous vigorous activity 3 to 5 times a week to accumulation of 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity most days of the week. Variations of these guidelines also have been suggested for children, based on the idea of accumulating moderate to vigorous physical activity throughout the day, rather than attaining vigorous physical activity in continuous blocks. The goal of this study was to assess accumulated amounts of physical activity at different intensities in children. We reviewed 26 studies (n = 1883) in youth aged 3 to 17 years that used heart-rate recording to measure physical activity in children to determine accumulated daily activity. Included were studies that provided time being active for at least 2 heart rate intensities at or above 120 beats/minute. Descriptive characteristics of the study groups were determined, and the influence of age, gender, and hours and days of observation on the slope of activity time as a function of percentage of heart rate reserve (HRR) was determined using hierarchical linear regression. Youth attained 128.0 +/- 45.6, 47.1 +/- 14.9, 29.3 +/- 13.7, and 14.7 +/- 6.0 minutes/day between 20% to 40%, 40% to 50%, 50% to 60%, and greater than 60% HRR, respectively. Age was a significant predictor of the intercept and slope of the physical activity and %HRR relationship. Youth of all ages attain >60 minutes/day of low-intensity physical activity and approximately 30 minutes/day of activity at traditional cardiovascular fitness training levels of 50% or more of HRR. Recommendations for youth activity are discussed.
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Food insecurity has been associated with diverse developmental consequences for U.S. children primarily from cross-sectional studies. We used longitudinal data to investigate how food insecurity over time related to changes in reading and mathematics test performance, weight and BMI, and social skills in children. Data were from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Kindergarten Cohort, a prospective sample of approximately 21,000 nationally representative children entering kindergarten in 1998 and followed through 3rd grade. Food insecurity was measured by parent interview using a modification of the USDA module in which households were classified as food insecure if they reported > or =1 affirmative response in the past year. Households were grouped into 4 categories based on the temporal occurrence of food insecurity in kindergarten and 3rd grade. Children's academic performance, height, and weight were assessed directly. Children's social skills were reported by teachers. Analyses examined the effects of modified food insecurity on changes in child outcomes using lagged, dynamic, and difference (i.e., fixed-effects) models and controlling for child and household contextual variables. In lagged models, food insecurity was predictive of poor developmental trajectories in children before controlling for other variables. Food insecurity thus serves as an important marker for identifying children who fare worse in terms of subsequent development. In all models with controls, food insecurity was associated with outcomes, and associations differed by gender. This study provides the strongest empirical evidence to date that food insecurity is linked to specific developmental consequences for children, and that these consequences may be both nutritional and nonnutritional.
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Eighty-four percent of U.S. households with children were food secure throughout 2007, meaning that they had consistent access to adequate food for active, healthy lives for all household members. Nearly 16 percent of households with children were food insecure sometime during the year, including 8.3 percent in which children were food insecure and 0.8 percent in which one or more children experienced very low food security—the most severe food-insecure condition measured by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Numerous studies suggest that children in food-insecure households have higher risks of health and development problems than children in otherwise similar food-secure households. This study found that about 85 percent of households with food-insecure children had a working adult, including 70 percent with a full-time worker. Fewer than half of households with food-insecure children included an adult educated past high school. Thus, job opportunities and wage rates for less educated workers are important factors affecting the food security of children. In 2007, Federal food and nutrition assistance programs provided benefits to four out of five low-income, food-insecure households with children.
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Eighty-nine percent of American households were food secure throughout the entire year 2002, meaning that they had access, at all times, to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members. The remaining households were food insecure at least some time during that year. The prevalence of food insecurity rose from 10.7 percent in 2001 to 11.1 percent in 2002, and the prevalence of food insecurity with hunger rose from 3.3 percent to 3.5 percent. This report, based on data from the December 2002 food security survey, provides the most recent statistics on the food security of U.S. households, as well as on how much they spent for food and the extent to which food-insecure households participated in Federal and community food assistance programs. Survey responses indicate that the typical food-secure household in the U.S. spent 35 percent more on food than the typical food-insecure household of the same size and household composition. Just over one-half of all food-insecure households participated in one or more of the three largest Federal food assistance programs during the month prior to the survey. About 19 percent of food-insecure households—3.0 percent of all U.S. households—obtained emergency food from a food pantry at some time during the year.
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This study investigated associations between family income, food insufficiency, and health among US preschool and school-aged children. Data from the third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey were analyzed. Children were classified as food insufficient if the family respondent reported that the family sometimes or often did not get enough food to eat. Regression analyses were conducted with health measures as the outcome variables. Prevalence rates of health variables were compared by family income category, with control for age and gender. Odds ratios for food insufficiency were calculated with control for family income and other potential confounding factors. Low-income children had a higher prevalence of poor/fair health status and iron deficiency than high-income children. After confounding factors, including poverty status, had been controlled, food-insufficient children were significantly more likely to have poorer health status and to experience more frequent stomachaches and headaches than food-sufficient children; preschool food-insufficient children had more frequent colds. Food insufficiency and low family income are health concerns for US preschool and school-aged children.
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This study investigates associations between food insufficiency and cognitive, academic, and psychosocial outcomes for US children and teenagers ages 6 to 11 and 12 to 16 years. Data from the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III) were analyzed. Children were classified as food-insufficient if the family respondent reported that his or her family sometimes or often did not get enough food to eat. Regression analyses were conducted to test for associations between food insufficiency and cognitive, academic, and psychosocial measures in general and then within lower-risk and higher-risk groups. Regression coefficients and odds ratios for food insufficiency are reported, adjusted for poverty status and other potential confounding factors. After adjusting for confounding variables, 6- to 11-year-old food-insufficient children had significantly lower arithmetic scores and were more likely to have repeated a grade, have seen a psychologist, and have had difficulty getting along with other children. Food-insufficient teenagers were more likely to have seen a psychologist, have been suspended from school, and have had difficulty getting along with other children. Further analyses divided children into lower-risk and higher-risk groups. The associations between food insufficiency and children's outcomes varied by level of risk. The results demonstrate that negative academic and psychosocial outcomes are associated with family-level food insufficiency and provide support for public health efforts to increase the food security of American families.
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Hunger, with its adverse consequences for children, continues to be an important national problem. Previous studies that document the deleterious effects of hunger among children cannot distinguish child from family hunger and do not take into account some critical environmental, maternal, and child variables that may influence child outcomes. This study examines the independent contribution of child hunger on children's physical and mental health and academic functioning, when controlling for a range of environmental, maternal, and child factors that have also been associated with poor outcomes among children. With the use of standardized tools, comprehensive demographic, psychosocial, and health data were collected in Worcester, Massachusetts, from homeless and low-income housed mothers and their children (180 preschool-aged children and 228 school-aged children). Mothers and children were part of a larger unmatched case-control study of homelessness among female-headed households. Hunger was measured by a set of 7 dichotomous items, each asking the mother whether she has or her children have experienced a particular aspect of hunger during the past year--1 concerns food insecurity for the entire family, 2 concern adult hunger, and 4 involve child hunger. The items, taken from the Childhood Hunger Identification Project measure, are summed to classify the family and divided into 3 categories: no hunger, adult or moderate child hunger, or severe child hunger (indicating multiple signs of child hunger). Outcome measures included children's chronic health condition count using questions adapted from the National Health Interview Survey, Child Health Supplement, and internalizing behavior problems and anxiety/depression, measured by the Child Behavior Checklist. Additional covariates included demographic variables (ie, age, gender, ethnicity, housing status, number of moves, family size, income), low birth weight, child life events (ie, care and protection order, out of home placement, abuse, severe life events count), developmental problems (ie, developmental delay, learning disability, emotional problems), and mother's distress and psychiatric illness. Multivariate regression analyses examined the effect of child hunger on physical and mental health outcomes. The average family size for both preschoolers and school-aged children was 3; about one third of both groups were white and 40% Puerto Rican. The average income of families was approximately $11 000. Among the school-aged children, on average 10 years old, 50% experienced moderate child hunger and 16% severe child hunger. Compared with those with no hunger, school-aged children with severe hunger were more likely to be homeless (56% vs 29%), have low birth weights (23% vs 6%), and have more stressful life events (9 vs 6) when compared with those with no hunger. School-aged children with severe hunger scores had parent-reported anxiety scores that were more than double the scores for children with no hunger and significantly higher chronic illness counts (3.4 vs 1.8) and internalizing behavior problems when compared with children with no hunger. There was no relationship between hunger and academic achievement. Among preschool-aged children, who averaged 4 years of age, 51% experienced moderate child hunger and 8% severe child hunger. For preschoolers, compared with children with no hunger, severe hunger was associated with homelessness (75% vs 48%), more traumatic life events (8.5 vs 6), low birth weight (23% vs 6%), and higher levels of chronic illness and internalizing behavior problems. Mothers of both preschoolers and school-aged children who reported severe hunger were more likely to have a lifetime diagnosis of posttraumatic stress disorder. For school-aged children, severe hunger was a significant predictor of chronic illness after controlling for housing status, mother's distress, low birth weight, and child live events. For preschoolers, moderate hunger was a significant predictor of health conditions while controlling for potenns while controlling for potential explanatory factors. For both preschoolers and school-aged children, severe child hunger was associated with higher levels of internalizing behavior problems. After controlling for housing status, mother's distress, and stressful life events, severe child hunger was also associated with higher reported anxiety/depression among school-aged children. This study goes beyond previous research and highlights the independent relationship between severe child hunger and adverse physical health and mental health outcomes among low-income children. Study findings underscore the importance of clinical recognition of child hunger and its outcomes, allowing for preventive interventions and efforts to increase access to food-related resources for families.
USDA Economic Research Service Web site
  • A Coleman-Jensen
  • M Nord
Coleman-Jensen A, Nord M. Definitions of Food Security. USDA Economic Research Service Web site. Available at: http://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/foodnutrition-assistance/food-security-in-the-us/definitions-of-food-security.aspx#. UhUPAz-wePF. Accessed July 15, 2013.