Children increasingly rely on food stamps

stockphotopro_50955mry_a_chapple_chappleA new study that came out last week reports that half of American kids will receive food stamps before the age of 20. Mark Schuster, MD, PhD, chief of the division of General Pediatrics at Children’s Hospital Boston, says that while the findings are sobering, they don’t come as a surprise. “The public perception is that food stamps primarily go to families that are dependent on them for many years. The reality, however, is that many families go through periods of economic difficulty and programs like food stamps can help make the difference in getting them through rough times.”

The study revealed that while 20 percent of children using food stamps rely on them for years, most live in families who use food stamps as a short-term safety net. The study also found that 90 percent of black children will be on food stamps at some point before the age of 20.

Schuster says this is a reflection of the economic realities in our society, and points to the larger issue of poverty among African American children. “These numbers illustrate the income differential between African American and white families, and how African Americans are likelier to experience periods of economic fragility.”

Research recently conduced at Children’s found that a high percent of 5th graders were homeless at some point in their lives. “Both these studies bring attention to the fact that many people are experiencing periods of downturn,” he says.

Schuster adds that it’s especially important for clinicians and health care professionals to be aware of the ways kids may suffer when their family’s economic situation declines. “We may see patients going through rough financial times, and this is a good reminder for clinical staff to advise our patients and their families about these resources.”

Food stamp use is up this year, likely due to the struggling economy and rising unemployment. In July, more than 35.8 million Americans used food stamps. That’s almost seven million more than a year earlier.