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Food Security, Neighborhoods, and Young Children’s Growth

The Food and Communities for Growing Children Project

Child watching as parents cut up vegetables


Food insecurity — inadequate access to enough food for every person in a household to live an active, healthy life — can negatively impact children's growth and long-term health. The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) is an important evidence-based program that supports equitable child health by providing families with children under age 5 access to nutritionally and developmentally appropriate foods and nutrition counseling. However, only half of those who are eligible for WIC participate; among those who do participate, many do not redeem or only partly redeem the monthly benefit. This mixed-methods study focuses on understanding how factors at multiple levels, such as neighborhood characteristics and food assistance programs like WIC, influence the impact of food insecurity on young children’s growth over time. By understanding the complex factors influencing food insecurity and its impact on child weight, the project aims to develop evidence-based recommendations to inform implementation of WIC and other policies to support healthy growth among children. The ultimate goal is to improve the long-term support provided to families with young children in metropolitan areas, reducing food insecurity and disparities in child weight outcomes.

Research Methods

This study will use a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods. Qualitative focus groups will be conducted with caregivers of young children from families with low incomes to explore their food purchasing habits, feeding practices, and experiences of food insecurity during the pandemic. Topics will include impacts of recent changes in WIC and neighborhood characteristics. Statistical analysis using children’s electronic health records will be used to assess whether food insecurity experienced between the ages of 2 and 36 months predicts weight gain trajectories in children up to 3 and 6 years of age. The study will also examine how effects of food insecurity on children’s growth may differ by neighborhood characteristics. The qualitative and quantitative findings will be combined into an integrative report to inform WIC program recommendations to best support families for children’s healthy growth in the context of multilevel contributing factors.


Research Team

  • Félice Lê-Scherban
  • Amy Carroll-Scott
  • Jana Hirsch
  • Kelly A. Courts
  • Maggie Beverly
  • Kelley Traister
  • Jeff Moore
  • Matthew Jannetti
  • Christina Brown
  • Hyden Terrell
  • Flor Cruz-Morillo
  • Kati Hinman
  • Tyler Munn
  • Steve Melly
  • Natalie Rodrigues
  • Stephen Francisco
  • Hans Kersten
  • Stephanie Mayne
  • Alex Fiks
  • Eliza Kinsey
  • Taylor Young


This work is supported by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (R01DK133389).