The Center's work on 'Child Nutrition and WIC' Issues

Schools Have New Opportunity to Become Hunger Free

April 10, 2015 at 11:22 am

We’ve entered the period for school districts in high-poverty areas to decide whether to implement community eligibility — which allows qualifying schools to offer breakfast and lunch to all students at no charge — for the 2015-2016 school year.  More than 14,000 high-poverty schools are using community eligibility this year to become hunger free by giving their 6.6 million students access to nutritious school meals.  Yet about half of the eligible schools haven’t adopted community eligibility, which first became available nationwide this year.  Now they have another chance.

Under federal law, school districts have already identified the share of their students who, as of April 1, were eligible for free school meals without applying because they receive assistance from another program, like SNAP (formerly food stamps).  This figure, known as the “identified student percentage,” determines whether a school qualifies for community eligibility.

Key deadlines coming up include:

April 15:  Districts must report the identified student percentages for schools that are eligible (or nearly eligible) for community eligibility to the state agency that runs the school meal programs.

May 1: Each state must publish a list of schools eligible for community eligibility.  This list is often posted on the state’s Department of Education website.  As we did last year, we’ll publish the link to each list as it becomes available.

August 31: Districts must notify their state agency that they wish to adopt community eligibility for the 2015-2016 school year and demonstrate eligibility following state procedures.

Stakeholders have an opportunity in the coming months to make sure that eligible school districts have the information needed to assess community eligibility.  Resources like the model presentation and implementation guide that CBPP prepared with the Food Research and Action Center can help frame conversations with school boards, superintendents, wellness committees, and other stakeholders.

Now is the time to use this powerful and proven model to bring free, nutritious school meals to more students in high-poverty schools.

WIC: Critical Support at a Critical Period of Life

March 16, 2015 at 12:32 pm

As we explained this morning, evidence continues to mount that lack of adequate food, stable housing, health care, and other essentials in infancy and early childhood can affect children’s brain development, with long-term consequences for their physical, mental, academic, and economic well-being.  WIC is one of several programs that give very young children and their families critical support during this critical period of life.

Extensive research over the past four decades shows that WIC — formally known as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children — contributes to positive developmental and health outcomes for low-income women and young children.  In particular, WIC participation is associated with:

  • Healthier births. Prenatal participation in WIC helps mothers give birth to healthier infants with higher birth weights.  WIC participation also helps lower infant mortality.  For example, a recent Ohio study found lower infant mortality among WIC participants than non-participants — especially among African Americans, where the infant mortality rate for WIC participants was half that for non-participants.
  • More nutritious diets. Strong evidence suggests that WIC participation increases infants’ and children’s intakes of some essential vitamins and minerals.  As a result, WIC has helped reduce the prevalence of iron deficiency and anemia.  Mothers participating in WIC are also more likely to follow recommended infant feeding practices, like delaying the introduction of cow’s milk until a baby turns 1.  In addition, the Agriculture Department’s 2009 revisions to the WIC food package to encourage healthier eating boosted participants’ consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products.  WIC may also have contributed to the recent halt in the rise in obesity among low-income preschool children.
  • Stronger connections to preventive health care.  Low-income infants and children who participate in WIC receive health care referrals and are much more likely to receive appropriate preventive and curative care. For example, low-income children participating in WIC are just as likely to be immunized as more affluent children — and much more likely than low-income children not participating in WIC.
  • Improved cognitive development. New research links prenatal and early childhood participation in WIC with improved cognitive development and academic achievement.  Children whose mothers participated in WIC while pregnant scored higher on assessments of mental development at age 2 than similar children whose mothers did not participate.  Moreover, the benefit persisted into the school years, as children whose mothers participated in WIC while pregnant performed better on reading assessments.

Key Programs Lay Building Blocks for Kids’ Success

March 16, 2015 at 10:47 am

As Congress begins its budget deliberations, lawmakers should be concerned not only with how they’ll allocate funds next year but also with the long-term implications of their decisions.  Cuts to effective programs that ensure children start life on a positive path, such as WIC and home visiting, and those that help families meet their basic needs, like SNAP, rental assistance, and Medicaid, could prove costly in the long run.

A compelling and growing body of scientific research indicates that children living in unusually stressful situations (such as not having enough food to eat or living in unstable housing) may experience chronic stress levels severe enough (i.e., “toxic stress”) to damage the developing neural connections in their brains, impeding their ability to succeed in school and develop the social and emotional skills they will need to function well as adults.  These early adverse experiences also can undermine the body’s cardiovascular and immune systems, resulting in costly health conditions in adulthood such as diabetes or heart disease.

Jack Shonkoff, a key researcher on toxic stress, and his colleagues note in a recent American Academy of Pediatrics report that the scientific research not only shows the consequences of toxic stress but also points to areas that can help lay the foundation for healthy development:

  • sound and appropriate nutrition that begins with the future mother’s preconception nutritional status;
  • safe and supportive environments that provide spaces free from toxins and fear, allow active exploration without significant risk of harm, and offer support for families raising young children; and
  • a stable and responsive environment of relationships that provide young children with consistent, nurturing, and protective interactions with adults to enhance their learning and help them adapt and respond to life events in a healthy way.

As Shonkoff says:

Sound health in early childhood provides a foundation for the construction of sturdy brain architecture and the achievement of a broad range of skills and learning capacities. Together these constitute the building blocks for a vital and sustainable society that invests in its human capital and values the lives of its children.

This research provides a compelling case for investing in children, especially when they are very young and their life experiences are fostering — or hindering — their brain development.  Cutting programs that make a positive difference in children’s lives will cost kids, their families, and the economy much more than it saves in the years to come.

Mapping Schools’ Adoption of Community Eligibility

February 27, 2015 at 9:00 am

These interactive maps show the extent to which eligible school districts and schools in each state have adopted community eligibility, which allows qualifying high-poverty schools to offer breakfast and lunch to all students at no charge.  Along with our new report, searchable database, and guide to promoting community eligibility, they’re designed to help parent organizations, teachers, and other stakeholders in low-income communities identify which schools and school districts have taken up the option and which others could benefit from it the next school year.

The first map shows the share of eligible school districts adopting the provision; the second map shows the share of eligible schools adopting it; and the third map shows the share of highest-poverty schools adopting it.  When you scroll over a state, detailed data appear. When you click on a state, the bar chart below the map displays that state’s implementation data compared to national data.

More than 14,000 high-poverty schools serving more than 6.6 million children adopted community eligibility this year.  But many eligible schools in poor communities haven’t yet adopted it, which means low-income students are missing out.  These resources can help school districts consider whether to adopt community eligibility for the 2015-2016 school year.

Could Your School District Streamline Its Breakfast and Lunch Programs?

February 25, 2015 at 4:14 pm

Community eligibility supports Congress’ longstanding goal of reducing paperwork for high-poverty schools by enabling them to offer breakfast and lunch at no charge to all students without collecting and processing individual meal applications.  In its first year of nationwide implementation, more than 14,000 high-poverty schools serving more than 6.6 million children have adopted the option.  Our new report and searchable database help parent organizations, teachers, and other stakeholders in low-income communities identify which school districts have adopted community eligibility and which others could benefit from it in the next school year.

We’ve measured the share of eligible school districts that implemented community eligibility in at least one school, the share of eligible schools that adopted it, and the share of the highest-poverty schools (where community eligibility is most feasible financially for districts because their federal meal reimbursements are the largest) that adopted it.

Although community eligibility was widely implemented this year, participation among eligible schools varied widely by state (see map).  Many more high-poverty schools could benefit from streamlining their meal programs and freeing up resources for educational priorities.  More importantly, millions more low-income children would be better able to learn if they received breakfast and lunch without hassle or stigma.  This spring, school districts will have another opportunity to examine if community eligibility could benefit their schools and students.