Rider Economics Professors Awarded $250,000 to Study the Effects of Hunger Among U.S. Children

The grant is part of the Research Program on Childhood Hunger sponsored by the University of Kentucky Center for Poverty Research.
Friday, April 19, 2013

Dr. Kelly Noonan and Dr. Hope Corman, both professors of Economics at Rider, along with Dr. Nancy E. Reichman of the Department of Pediatrics at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, have been awarded a research grant in the amount of $250,000 from the University of Kentucky Center for Poverty Research (UKCPR). They will estimate the effects of family health shocks – a sudden or unexpected health event that can result in significant losses to family income – on young children’s food insecurity in their earliest years, from birth to age 5.

Funding for the grant, which will take effect on May 1, is supplied by the Food and Nutrition Service in the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It is one of three “large” grants (along with six smaller grants of $75,000 each) awarded by UKCPR totaling $1.2 million “to provide rigorous research that expands our understanding of hunger among children in the United States,” according to the Center’s website.

Noonan’s, Corman’s and Reichman’s project will focus on the effects of moderate to severe health conditions that are present at birth and maternal postpartum depression, both of which are relatively common and have large random components. Their work will estimate the overall effects, subgroup effects, and separate and relative effects of two different types of health shock to two key members in food insecure households: the physical health shock that occurs to a child, and the mental health shock that affects mothers.

“If you have a child in poor health, there’s an increased likelihood of homelessness and post-parental depression,” Noonan explained. “Life shocks can also affect relationships, insurance status, labor supply and food security.”

According to a project overview provided by the UKCPR, even a modest compromise in food security may impair physical, intellectual and social development in children. In 2011, 14.9 percent of all households – representing 50.1 million people, including 16.6 million children – experienced food insecurity. Despite an array of government policies geared toward its alleviation, food insecurity remains stubbornly high and indeed has increased over 30 percent since the onset of the Great Recession in 2007.

The research of Noonan, Corman and Reichman will also estimate the effects of these health shocks on the risk for food insecurity, as well as how they affect receipt of benefits under the Supplemental Nutritional Program (SNAP), Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and other public assistance programs, as well as the extent to which participation in these programs appears to mediate the effects of the health shocks on food insecurity of young children and their families.

Noonan, Corman and Reichman say that their collective analyses will help understand the role disability in the family plays in exposing children to food insecurity, as well as the effectiveness of food stamps and other public assistance programs in buffering its effects on them.

“Overall, the proposed analyses will offer timely, policy-relevant research findings that address specific objectives of the Research Program on Childhood Hunger … and inform the national response to childhood hunger,” the three researchers said in their project summary.

The University of Kentucky Center for Poverty Research (UKCPR) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit academic research center focused on the causes, consequences, and correlates of poverty and inequality in the United States. Established in 2002, the Center’s research informs evidence-based policymaking at the local, regional, and national levels.

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Dr. Hope Corman (left) and Dr. Kelly Noonan, both professors of Economics at Rider.