ITHACA, N.Y. -- Preschoolers whose families get federal food aid have much healthier diets than low-income children whose families are not getting assistance. And federally aided children are protected from iron and zinc deficiencies, according to a new Cornell University study.
What's more, the study shows, the benefits to the young children from direct food aid are much greater than if the families are given a cash allowance.
Specifically, the researchers found that preschoolers in the WIC program (the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children) received 17 percent more of the recommended daily allowance, or RDA, for iron than nonparticipating low-income children and 10 percent more of the RDA for zinc in their diets, as well as significant boosts of eight out of 13 other nutrients studied. These benefits were realized without increases in fat, saturated fat or cholesterol.
Preschoolers whose families receive food stamps from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) also benefit significantly, although the effects are not as dramatic, noted Jean-Pierre Habicht, M.D., the James J. Jamison Professor of Nutritional Epidemiology at Cornell, writing in the March issue of Journal of Nutrition, the journal of the American Society for Nutritional Sciences.
Habicht and his colleagues, Donald Rose of the USDA Economic Research Service and Barbara Devaney of Mathematica Policy Research, Princeton, N.J., studied 499 low-income preschoolers. The children were either enrolled in the WIC program, which also is administered by the USDA, in the food stamp program, in both or in neither.
"The iron and zinc benefits from these programs are particularly important because iron deficiency is the single most prevalent nutritional deficiency in the U.S., with up to 20 percent of low-income preschoolers under 2 years of age suffering from anemia," Habicht says.