Low-income families with children who have special health care needs are at high risk for food insecurity, even when they receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and participate in public assistance programs, such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). According to a new study led by researchers from Children’s Health Watch at Boston Medical Center (BMC) and published online ahead of print in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, there is a need to re-evaluate criteria determining qualifications for nutritional assistance in families with children with special health care needs in order to decrease the risk of food insecurity.
Children with chronic health, physical, developmental, and behavioral conditions are classified as having “special health care needs” (SHCN); a 2011 report indicated that 11.4 percent of children in the US under the age of 5 fall into that category. These children often require significant medical care and assistance as well as specific, and often expensive, diets, which can be a considerable financial burden for low-income families. This may lead to household food insecurity, defined as the inability to afford enough food for an active and healthy life for all household members; or child food insecurity, a severe form of food insecurity when resources in the household are so constrained that children’s meals need to be skipped or include less expansive and lower quality (thus less nourishing) foods.
For example, a low-income family with a child with SHCN that has expensive nutritional or formula requirements due to diabetes or a neurological impairment may not qualify for a SNAP benefit that meets the cost of these extra health-related needs. Therefore the family may need to cut back on healthy food options in order to compensate for the increased nutritional expenses for that child, resulting in the family experiencing food insecurity.