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Pediatricians at Boston Medical Center Concerned about Impact on Child Health

Boston University : 29 September, 2005  (Technical Article)
According to a study released yesterday by the Food Research and Action Center, entitled 'Food Stamp Access in Urban America: A City-by-City Snapshot,' the majority of eligible Boston residents are not enrolled in the 100% federally funded Food Stamp Program. In 2003, only 48% of Boston area residents who qualified for Food Stamps received benefits, leaving 49,413 of the 95,135 eligible individuals without access to the food assistance they need, and leaving millions of federal dollars unclaimed.
While the Food Stamp caseload in Massachusetts did increase by 8.6% in the past year, so did the numbers eligible, and the level of unmet need remains critical.

Since 2001, Massachusetts overall has been plagued with the lowest Food Stamp participation rate in the United States as a result of chronic access barriers. The FRAC report identified a number of strategies states can use to increase Food Stamp participation. These include targeted outreach to underserved communities, improved customer assistance by food stamp offices, and systems to ensure client paperwork is not lost.

Pediatricians and child health researchers at Boston Medical Center are profoundly concerned about the impact of Boston’s low Food Stamp participation rate on young children's health. Data from the Children's Sentinel Nutrition Assessment Program, a child health research program based at Boston Medical Center, show that Food Stamps are crucial to the health of many young, low-income children. Children in households receiving Food Stamps have lower risk of poor health due to food insecurity, compared to children in households not receiving Food Stamps. 'Food insecurity' is the government's technical term for limited or inconsistent access to enough nutritious food.

Researchers at Boston Medical Center are also deeply troubled by the insufficient amount of Food Stamp allotments. In a recent study entitled 'The Real Cost of a Healthy Diet,' a research team in the Department of Pediatrics found that in 2004 a Boston family's maximum Food Stamp allotment fell short of the price of the government's Thrifty Food Plan basket by almost $27 per month on average. When assessing the cost of purchasing a modified TFP market basket that adheres to the government's latest nutritional guidelines, the Food Stamp allotment fell short on average by about $148 per month. The study concludes that healthy eating is out of reach for many of Boston’s low-income families with children who rely on Food Stamps, leaving children at risk for food insecurity and related health problems, including undernutrition and overweight.

'Food Stamps are vital to ensure the nutrition, health, and development of the nation's next generation,” said Dr. Deborah Frank, a pediatrician and director of the Grow Clinic at Boston Medical Center. “Last week I saw a two-year-old girl who weighed 21 pounds (the normal weight for a one year old). When I asked the mother if her toddler had enough to eat, she burst into tears. Fatal starvation is mercifully rare, but nutritional deprivation sufficient to impair health and educational success is common.'

Dr. Alan Meyers, a pediatrician at Boston Medical Center adds, “Food Stamp participation and Food Stamp allotments must urgently be increased to meet current needs. Like immunizations, Food Stamps are good medicine.'

Low Food Stamp participation rates are not just detrimental to the health of young children; low rates also have negative effects on the well being of entire communities. As a result of its low Food Stamp participation, Boston missed out on $29 million annually in federal dollars that could have been used to stimulate the city’s economy and provide an economic boost to low-income areas. According to USDA, one federal Food Stamp dollar generates $1.80 in local economic activity.
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