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Food Stamps Help Stave Off Hunger in Many U.S. Homes

Over 30-year period, nearly half of American children received nutrition assistance, analysis shows

MONDAY, Nov. 2, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- At some point, nearly half of all American children and teens will live in a home that receives food stamps, a new study shows.

Researchers analyzed 30 years (1968 to 1997) of national data collected by the Panel Study of Income Dynamics and found that by the time they were 1 year old, 12.1 percent of U.S. children had lived in households receiving food stamps. That increased to 26.1 percent at 5 years of age; 35.9 percent at 10 years; 43.6 percent by age 15, and 49.2 percent by age 20.

The study also found that by age 20, about one-third of children had lived in households that received food stamps for two or more years, 28.1 percent for three or more years, 26.4 percent for four or more years, and 22.8 percent for five or more years.

Food stamp use was most likely among households with black children and those who lived in households headed by adults who were unmarried or had had less than 12 years of education, the researchers reported in the November issue of the journal Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

"American children are at a high risk of encountering a spell during which their families are in poverty and food insecurity as indicated through their use of food stamps. Such events have the potential to seriously jeopardize a child's overall health," wrote Mark R. Rank, of the George Warren Brown School of Social Work at Washington University, St. Louis, and Thomas A. Hirschl, of Cornell University.

Studies have "repeatedly demonstrated that two of the most detrimental economic conditions affecting a child's health are poverty and food insecurity," the researchers noted.

"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," the study authors added.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about youth and nutrition.

SOURCE: JAMA/Archives journals, news release, Nov. 2, 2009
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