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Individual, family and neighborhood characteristics and children’s food insecurity

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In 2010, some 14.5% of American households — 17.2 million — could not always furnish enough food for family members, according to a USDA report. This figure has remained at elevated levels following the Great Recession in 2007-08, and it is even higher for households with children. The consequences of such food insecurity can be devastating for children’s health and development. While previous studies on this issue have largely focused on individuals and households, food insecurity can strike certain communities and neighborhoods more than others.

A 2012 study in the Journal of Applied Research on Children, “Individual, Family, and Neighborhood Characteristics and Children’s Food Insecurity,” examines individual, family and neighborhood characteristics of food-insecure children. The researchers, from Rice University, based their work on the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study (ECLS), a nationally representative dataset of 20,000 kindergarteners from 1998 to 1999.

Findings of the report include that:

  • In both kindergarten and third grade, 8% of the children were classified as food insecure. Only 5% of white children were food insecure, while 12% and 15% of black and Hispanic children were food insecure, respectively. In third grade, 13% of black and 11% of Hispanic children are food insecure compared to 5% of white children.
  • Over 20% of children whose mothers held less than a high school education were food insecure at kindergarten. This figure is significantly higher than for children of mothers with a high school degree (8%) and children whose mother’s attained a college degree (1%).
  • A typical food-insecure neighborhood is approximately 25% Hispanic and 16% black. The average food-insecure child lives in a neighborhood where more than a quarter of households are lead by women.
  • Children in the Hispanic/foreign-born neighborhoods are also far more likely to be food insecure: 16% in kindergarten and 13% at third grade.

“Policies that focus on levels of food insecurity within neighborhoods or communities, rather than a strictly individual or household-level focus, may have more far-reaching effects on curbing food insecurity,” the researchers conclude. “For example, a focus on improving access to affordable and healthy foods in poor neighborhoods could reap dividends for decreasing household food insecurity.”

Because the data analyzed were slightly older, the researchers note the following about the study’s relevance to contemporary America: “From 2000 to 2007, household food insecurity rates were closer to 11%, undergoing a spike from 2007 to 2008 to roughly 14% in 2009 and 2010, which was the highest level since the USDA surveys began in 1995. Thus, it is likely that our estimates, from data before the increase in food insecurity began, are conservative and reflect a better food environment for households with children in the U.S. than can be expected today.”

Tags: children, nutrition, food, race, Hispanic, African-American

    Writer: | Last updated: April 10, 2012

    Citation: Kimbro, Rachel T.; Denney, Justin T.; Panchang, Sarita. "Individual, Family, and Neighborhood Characteristics and Children's Food Insecurity," Journal of Applied Research on Children: Informing Policy for Children at Risk, 2012, Vol. 3, Issue 1, Article 8.

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    Newswriting and digital reporting assignments

    1. Write a lead, headline or nut graph based on the study.
    2. Spend 60 minutes exploring the issue by accessing sources of information other than the study. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study but informed by the new information. Does the new information significantly change what one would write based on the study alone?
    3. Compose two Twitter messages of 140 characters or fewer accurately conveying the study’s findings to a general audience. Make sure to use appropriate hashtags.
    4. Choose several key quotations from the study and show how they would be set up and used in a brief blog post.
    5. Map out the structure for a 60-second video segment about the study. What combination of study findings and visual aids could be used?
    6. Find pictures and graphics that might run with a story about the study. If appropriate, also find two related videos to embed in an online posting. Be sure to evaluate the credibility and appropriateness of any materials you would aggregate and repurpose.

    Class discussion questions

    1. What is the study’s most important finding?
    2. Would members of the public intuitively understand the study’s findings? If not, what would be the most effective way to relate them?
    3. What kinds of knowledgeable sources you would interview to report the study in context?
    4. How could the study be “localized” and shown to have community implications?
    5. How might the study be explained through the stories of representative individuals? What kinds of people might a reporter feature to make such a story about the study come alive?
    6. What sorts of stories might be generated out of secondary information or ideas discussed in the study?

    Study analysis

    Read the study titled “Individual, Family, and Neighborhood Characteristics and Children’s Food Insecurity.”

    1. What are the study's key technical term(s)? Which ones need to be put into language a lay audience can understand?
    2. Do the study’s authors put the research into context and show how they are advancing the state of knowledge about the subject? If so, what did the previous research indicate?
    3. What is the study’s research method? If there are statistical results, how did the scholars arrive at them?
    4. Evaluate the study's limitations. (For example, are there weaknesses in the study's data or research design?)
    5. How could the findings be misreported or misinterpreted by a reporter? In other words, what are the difficulties in conveying the data accurately? Give an example of a faulty headline or story lead.

    Read the press release that accompanied the study, "An Argument for Changing the Way We Target Food Assistance Programs."

    1. If you had written an article based only on the press release, what would have been its main shortcoming(s)?

    Read the issue-related New York TImes article titled "Hunger in U.S. at a 14-Year High."

    1. What key insights from the journal article should reporters be aware of as they cover these issues?