Child care nutrition programs improve health and food safety outcomes, but are underfunded, researchers say

In the latest issue of the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, a survey of more than 3,000 children ages 1 to 4 from low-income households who receive a child care subsidy and who attended daycare found that those who received meals and snacks on-site – compared to those brought at home – were 30% less likely to live in food-insecure households, 39% less likely to be in fair or poor health and 41% less likely to be admitted to hospital from the emergency department.

Although the associations between childhood food insecurity, developmental risk, and obesity risk were not statistically significant, the researchers found that “all were in the expected direction.” They added that child food insecurity may not have reached statistical significance because providers prioritized children’s nutrition.

Most programs in the five U.S. cities where the research was conducted were able to provide meals to children thanks to funding from CACFP, a federal program administered by states that provides nutritious meals and snacks to children of families participating in Head Start . programs, family daycares, daycares and after-school programs or who are living in emergency shelters. All meals and snacks must meet National Academy of Medicine nutritional standards and follow age-appropriate meal patterns.

Strengthening the CACFP “provides a vitally important pathway to ensure children and their families can thrive”

“These results have several clinical and political implications”​ supported the researchers, led by Stephanie Ettinger de Cuba, executive director of Children’s HealthWatch and research associate professor at Boston University.

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