Household Hardships, Public Programs, and Their Association with the Health and Development of Very Young Children: Insights from Children’s HealthWatch

Many research and advocacy groups use econometrics and/or biostatistics to explore the health and educational effects of food insecurity. Children’s HealthWatch (formerly known as the Children’s Sentinel Nutrition Assessment Program or C-SNAP) is one such group. Children’s HealthWatch was founded in 1998 to bring evidence and analysis from the front lines of pediatric care to policy makers and the public. The goal of Children’s HealthWatch was to develop a continuous dataset that could monitor child health in real time as economic conditions and government assistance programs changed.

From its inception, the study has focused on a sentinel population of very young children. The rationale for this focus is both scientific and sociological. From a scientific perspective, during the developmental window from birth to preschool, the rapidly increasing size and function of the developing brain demands consistently high levels of nutritional substrate. Deficits in the growth of brain and body following nutritional deprivation or other hardships during this sensitive period, when the foundations of future health and cognitive development are largely determined, are difficult to remediate later in life. Paradoxically, this sensitive period is also the developmental epoch during which children in the US are most likely to live in poverty and least likely to participate in formal child care or educational settings. Thus, children of this age are typically “visible” only to their family members and health care providers.