Housing subsidies may help prevent children's undernutrition

06/02/05

CHICAGO The children of low-income families who receive public housing rent subsidies had greater weight for age, an indicator of better nutrition, than children whose families did not receive rent subsidies, according to a study in the June issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

Poor families in the United States are increasingly unable to afford basic necessities, including food and shelter, according to background information in the article. Household food insecurity, defined as a household with limited or uncertain availability of enough food for an active healthy life, affects children's health and well-being. Poor families who receive housing subsidies may be protected from excessive pressure on their food budget compared to comparable poor families without subsidies, the authors suggest. The current study tested whether the nutritional status of low-income children, as measured by growth parameters (weight for age) and health status would be better among children whose families received housing subsidies.

Alan Meyers, M.D., M.P.H., of the Boston Medical Center, and colleagues assessed data from the Children's Sentinel Nutritional Assessment Program, which interviewed caregivers of children younger than three years in pediatric clinics and emergency departments in six sites, Arkansas, California, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota and Washington, D.C. The child's weight was recorded at the time of the interview, which collected data including information on the family, the child's health, the U.S. Household Food Security Scale and public assistance participation.

Using data for 11,723 children of families who lived in rented housing and were identified as low-income, the researchers found that children of food-insecure families not receiving housing subsides had lower weight for age compared with children in food-insecure families receiving housing subsidies. "The importance of this measure derives both from its value as a public health indicator of nutritional and health status in populations of young children and from evidence that undernutrition in early childhood causes increased susceptibility to infectious disease as well as concurrent delayed mental development and later poor school performance and reduced intellectual capacity," the authors write.

"The federal budget for low-income housing assistance has been targeted for reduction. From a public health perspective, the findings of the current study raise concerns about the impact on child well-being of these proposed reductions," the authors conclude. "Our results suggest that in a time of increasing economic hardship and food insecurity for American families, decreases in housing subsidies may further compromise the nutritional status of low-income children."

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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