Influence of Food Stamps on the Nutritional Status of Inner-City Preschoolers from Hartford, CT,Who Receive WIC Benefits

Year: 1999

Research Center: Department of Nutrition at the University of California, Davis

Investigator: Pérez-Escamilla, Rafael, Ann M. Ferris, Linda Drake, Lauren Haldeman, Jessica Peranick, Marcia Campbell, Donna Moran, Yu-Kuei Peng, Georgine Burke, and Bruce A. Bernstein

Institution: University of Connecticut

Project Contact:
Rafael Pérez-Escamilla
Department of Nutritional Sciences
University of Connecticut
Jones Building, Storrs, CT 06269


The authors compared the food and nutrition situation of low-income preschoolers who received food stamps (N=59 FS) and those who did not (N=41 NFS). The 100 children participating in the study were recruited in the waiting areas of the two largest hospitals in Hartford, CT. The average age of the sampled children was 2.6 years. Fifty percent were female, and 84 percent were Hispanic. According to their caregivers, all had been enrolled in WIC at some point in the preceding year, and 95 percent were receiving WIC benefits at the time of the study. Groups were comparable in demographic characteristics, but the socioeconomic status of the FS group was lower than that of the NFS group.

The authors report that 74 percent of the 100 households in their sample were food insecure as measured by the Radimer/Cornell hunger scale. Among the FS group, the average monthly FS allotment was $260 and represented 96 percent of monthly food expenditures. Logistic regression results showed a positive and statistically significant relationship between “How long food stamps last each month” and food security, even after controlling for monthly income, monthly food stamp allotment, household size, maternal education, and car availability.

Twenty-four-hour recall data indicate that FS preschoolers tended to have higher intakes of iron, zinc, and folate than NFS preschoolers (statistically significant at the 10 percent level). Among those with monthly household incomes of less than $1,000, FS children had higher intake of fiber, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, and vitamins B-6 and D than NFS children. After controlling for energy intake and child’s age, the positive association between FS and the intakes of niacin and vitamin B6 remained statistically significant. Low-income FS children also consumed more sodas and had a higher caffeine intake than NFS children.

The authors draw three conclusions from these results. First, food stamps provide children with higher intakes of essential nutrients. Second, the monthly duration of food stamps has an independent effect on the food security of food stamp households. Third, food shopping, budgeting and menu planning lessons may be important for food stamp recipients to maximize how long their food stamps last each month and to increase the nutritional value of foods purchased with them.

The authors gratefully acknowledge the study participants, the Hartford WIC providers, and the hospital staff who made their project possible.