Food Support Programs and Their Impacts on Young Children
A growing body of research indicates that key federal food support programs have positive impacts on young children’s food security and health.
What's the Issue?
Too high a percentage of young children in the United States has inadequate nutrition. In 2017, 16.7 percent of children ages 0–4 years lived in households with food insecurity—meaning that members of their household experienced conditions such as worrying about whether resources for food would run out, not being able to afford balanced meals, skipping meals, or not eating enough. Adequate nutrition, both prenatally and through early childhood, is important for later-life health and economic outcomes.
This policy brief provides an overview and analysis of research on the health impacts on young children of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as the Food Stamp Program) and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). These researchers discuss the policy implications of the research and the holes in the literature, and highlight a number of current policy initiatives designed to improve or expand upon existing food support programs for young children.
SNAP and WIC each are estimated to serve 3 in 10 young children in the United States each month. These programs provide essential supplemental resources to purchase food. Research demonstrates that both of the programs have important positive impacts on children’s health and food security. In addition, there is direct evidence in the case of SNAP, and indirect evidence in the case of WIC, that these positive impacts continue through adulthood. Each of these programs is an important investment in the current and future well-being of America’s children.
Barriers to access to WIC, SNAP, or other programs that invest in early health are likely to harm health in the short run and both health and human capital in the longer run (a fuller discussion of this is available here) and may have a larger negative impact on more vulnerable populations. Future research and policy reforms should address problems that stem from lack of access to the programs—for immigrants, children nearing school age, and children from higher-income families that nonetheless experience food insecurity.