Some Low-Income Kids Face a ‘Nutrition Gap’ Before Starting School

Here’s a scenario currently playing out across the country: A low-income family receives vouchers through the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) to help buy nutritious staple foods such as milk, fresh produce, and peanut butter. Under WIC, the family is eligible to receive these benefits until the child in the household turns five (when he presumably enters kindergarten). But, because of where his birthday falls in relation to the start of the school year, the child becomes ineligible to receive the benefits; the resulting gap in nutritional support can last up to a year. There’s also an increase in the likelihood that his family will have to seek emergency food relief, choose cheaper, less-nutritious (read: processed) foods, and in some cases, even skip meals.

According to a new study conducted by researchers at the University of Missouri (MU), this very real scenario affects an estimated 153,000 American children every year. The study, titled “the impact of aging out of WIC on food insecurity in households with children,” was published in a recent issue of Children and Youth Services Review. Its authors analyzed a nationally representative data set that encompassed 1,350 children between the ages of four-and-a-half and six.

“Lots of people have looked at food insecurity among WIC participants, but not at this drop-off point,” says Colleen Heflin, a professor in MU’s Truman School of Public Affairs and one of the study’s authors. She and her colleagues found that 30-day food insecurity (that is, a one-month reference period for measuring a household’s difficulty in obtaining enough food due to a lack of resources) increases by an estimated 5 to 11 percent for children who age-out of WIC at the age of 61 months, but are not yet able to start kindergarten.

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