Examining the Association Between Food Insecurity and Children's Educational Outcomes
Food insecurity is defined as lacking sufficient food and is frequently associated with hunger (i.e. the physical discomfort of not having enough to eat). Data from the Current Population Survey Food Security Supplement revealed that over 10 million households (8.4%) reported food insecurity during the past 30 days. Compared to 16.4 % of the general population facing food insecurity, about 22.4 % of all children and 37.5 % of female-headed households with children make up the highest percentage. Thus, single female-headed households are disproportionately at greater risk for food security. The negative effects of childhood food insecurity have been well documented. Specifically food insecurity among children is associated with poor health, frequent illnesses, lower academic performance, and higher levels of social and emotional difficulties. To combat food insecurity the federal government has instituted the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) which provides families living in poverty with food assistance in the form of food stamps. The purpose of this study is to examine the association between food stamp use and children’s educational outcomes.
Data from the National Survey of Children’s Health 2011(NSCH) dataset was used to conduct a multivariate logistic regression to determine the association between poverty and educational achievement (i.e. repeating a grade). This subgroup was comprised of 9,135 school-age children living below the federal poverty line (FPL) who were surveyed from February 2011 through June 2012. Poverty was measured by difficulty affording basic necessities using the following item: "How often has it been hard to get by on your family's income - hard to cover basics like food or housing?". Food stamp participation was measured using the item “During the past 12 months, did the selected child in the household receive Food Stamps?”. Lastly, repeating a grade was measured by a dichotomous variable “Since starting kindergarten, has [child name] repeated any grades? (Yes/No)”.
The average age of the school-age children was 11.38 years (SD=3.46), and the majority of the respondents were White, non-Hispanic (38%), Hispanic (28%), and African American (19%). Approximately 16% of children repeated a grade, and 63% received food stamps. Multivariate logistic regressions indicated a significant association between difficulty affording basic necessities and repeating a grade among children living below the federal poverty line. However, this association was found to be moderated by food stamp participation (β = -0.4620, p = 0.0018). Thus, there was no association between difficulty in affording basic necessities and repeating a grade among those participating in SNAP after controlling for child demographics, , , and household composition..
To our knowledge, this is the first study to consider the impact of food stamps on children’s educational outcomes. In times of budget cuts and austerity, programs such as food stamps (or SNAP), serve an important role in meeting the needs of families in poverty, especially female-headed households facing food insecurity. The association between food insecurity and educational achievement from this study also has strong implications for clinical practice as well as prevention efforts in child serving outpatient clinics.