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Session Summary: Childhood Hunger in the U.S.

November 10, 2012 01:12 PM

This session attempted to identify various policy opportunities with regards to food hardships and hunger among children in lower-income families.

The first presentation of the panel was titled, Food Hardships in the Low Income Population: Child-Focused Evidence from the Three-City Study, and was presented by researcher Robert Mofitt of Johns Hopkins University. The study was conducted to look into possible policy avenues of reducing children's struggles with food insecurity. The data concentrated on information from low-income children in Chicago, San Antonio and Baltimore, and was collected at three specific and separate points in time over a number of years. Methodology included working to create and implement certain measures of Food Hardship. This effort brought about creating a "very low food security (VLFS)" variable using a list of 8 questions that replicated the VLFS variable generally formulated using 18 questions. The most significant result showed a positive correlation between the age of the child and their experience of very low food security. Other findings included a positive correlation between the state of the mother's health (or lack thereof) and the child's experience of VLFS.

"Is there more to food insecurity among children than poverty?" was the main question asked by Neeraj Kaushal of the Columbia University of Social Work in her presentation Understanding Very Low Food Security Among Children in the U.S. A primary aim was to come to a better understanding of the associations between poverty, income, and experiences of VLFS in families, particularly those immediately concerning children. The study focused on whether or not - and how - the positive association between poverty and food insecurity would increase if a better measure of poverty were implemented for general official use. As it is, only 62% of families with VLFS fit the current official definition of "poor." The main results found a significant association between the official definition of poverty and children's experience of VLFS; true to hypothesis, Kaushal found that the link between poverty and VLFS was strengthened when the definitions and categories of food insecurity were redefined and/or clarified.

Non-Resident Fathers' Involvement and Welfare Policies: Impacts on Childhood Hunger was presented by Steven Garasky of IMPAQ International, whose fellow researchers for the study included Daniel Miller of Boston University, Lenna Nepomnyaschy of Rutgers University, and Gabriel Lara-Ibarra of IMPAQ International. The study primarily focused on whether or not, and in what manner, the involvement of nonresident fathers was directly associated with the wellbeing of their children, in regards to the childrens' possible experience with food insecurity. Conclusions showed that father involvement in the child's life does indeed increase food security in ways that differed somewhat depending on specialized data set (FFCWS and PSID models used). The policy needing identified was a further focus on purposefully including non-resident fathers in efforts to decrease the magnitude and/or duration of their children's experience with food insecurity.

Ari Kalil of the University of Chicago discussed the implications of Kaushal's presentation, noting that official poverty statistics may be an unreliable guide to the realities of the distribution of material hardship in the U.S. She stressed the need to concentrate of identifying a more reliable means of measurement, as this method must have a status of "better" that is identifiable and easily explained.

Craig Gundersen of the University of Illinois discussed the two remaining presentations. He noted the need to pay attention to the possibilities parents may be worried about anonymity, which may, along with other factors, be leading to either/both over-reporting or under-reporting of children's food security.

Contributed by Claire Phelan, Rutgers University


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