Federal Food Policy and Childhood Obesity

A Solution or Part of the Problem?

Amid growing concern about childhood obesity, the United States spends billions of dollars on food assistance: providing meals and subsidizing food purchases. We examine the relationship between food assistance and body mass index (BMI) for young, low-income children, who are a primary target population for federal food programs and for efforts to prevent childhood obesity.

Our findings indicate that food assistance may unintentionally contribute to the childhood obesity problem in cities with high food prices. We also find that subsidized meals at school or day care are beneficial for children’s weight status, and we argue that expanding access to subsidized meals may be the most effective tool to use in combating obesity in poor children.