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Half Of US Children Will Be On Food Stamps

November 3, 2009

With the present recession in tow, the number of children on food stamps is expected to increase. 

According to researchers, current statistics suggest that approximately half of the children in the U.S., including 90 percent of children who grow up in single-parent households and 90 percent of black children, will be on food stamps at some point between the ages of 1 and 20.

Performed by researchers at Cornell University, the study is based on an analysis of the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, which followed about 4,800 households in the U.S. over the course of 32 years.

The authors of the study wrote background information for the article saying, “Research has repeatedly demonstrated that two of the most detrimental economic conditions affecting a child’s health are poverty and food insecurity.”

Food stamps are part of a Department of Agriculture program for low-income individuals and families, covering most foods. A family of four is eligible if the annual take-home pay does not exceed around $22,000.

“Understanding the degree to which American children are exposed to the risks of poverty and food insecurity across the length of childhood would appear to be an essential component of pediatric knowledge, particularly in light of the growing emphasis on the importance of community pediatrics,” they wrote.

Poverty is estimated to result in rising costs on children’s health care by approximately $22 billion per year.

“Children in poverty are significantly more likely to experience a range of health problems, including low birth weight, lead poisoning, asthma, mental health disorders, delayed immunization, dental problems and accidental death,” wrote Hirschl and co-author Mark R. Rank of Washington University in St. Louis.

“Poverty during childhood is also associated with a host of health, economic and social problems later in life.”

“Such events have the potential to seriously jeopardize a child’s overall health,” the authors added.

However, the chances of living in families using food stamps is not equally shared across all people groups.

Ninety percent of black children live in households receiving food stamps (as opposed to 37 percent of white children), 90 percent of children who live with single parents receive them (contrasted with 37 percent who live in married and other two-parent households),  and 62 percent of those whose head of household did not graduate from high school (contrasted with 31 percent where the head has more than 12 years of school) “encounter spells of food stamp use,” the authors wrote.

With these risk factors put together, the study found that 97 percent of black children living in non-married families where the head of the household did not complete 12 years of education will have received food stamps, compared with 21 percent of white children living in married families whose head of household has 12 or more years of education.

“The situation is likely bad for children,” wrote Hirschl, “because families eligible for food stamps who participate tend to be worse off nutritionally than eligible families who don’t participate.”

Hirschl went on to say that only about 60 percent of families eligible for food stamps actually utilize the program because of the shame and stigma associated with depending on government assistance.

The study was published Nov. 2 in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

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