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.
“Household and child food insecurity is a known risk factor for developmental delay and poor health in young children. Additionally, food insecurity is associated with increased hospitalizations among young children and higher hospitalization costs for infants once hospitalized, due to longer lengths of stay,” they explain in the study.
They add that the benefits of child care-provided meals demonstrated in the study extended beyond children to include their families and society as a whole.
They explain: “Excellent/good child health status was associated with decreased avoidable inpatient and outpatient health care services and costs. In addition to the fact that children are less seriously ill and do not need to be admitted to the emergency room, families benefit from reduced stress and avoid the expenses associated with hospital care and society benefits from savings. potentially significant in terms of health costs.
Given these benefits, Cuba’s Ettinger advocates for strengthening and improving access to programs like CACFP, which she says “provide a vitally important pathway to ensuring the flourishing of children and their families.
In the study, researchers argue that current CCPA funding levels are inadequate for full implementation of the program and that current reimbursement rates are insufficient “to cover the true cost of healthy foods (especially at the light of recent food price inflation) and support for provider training and technical assistance.
They also advocate for streamlining the paperwork and administrative burdens associated with the program, noting that they pose a barrier to child care providers’ participation in the CACFP.
“Work at the federal and state levels is warranted to increase participation”
This sentiment is echoed in another recent study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, which found that current CACFP participation rates among licensed child care centers “indicate underutilization of the programs and unequal access.”
The researchers based their conclusion on the finding of all licensed child care centers: only 36.5% participated in the CACFP, ranging from 15.2% to 65.3% depending on the state. Rates rose to 57.5% when limited to low-income areas.
“Work at the federal and state levels is warranted to expand program participation, especially in low-income areas, so that more young children can eat healthily with CACFP,” conclude the researchers led by Tatiana Andreyeva of the Rudd Center for Food. Politics and Health at the University of Connecticut.