Child and Adult Care Food Program Good for Young Children's Nutrition

Aug 29, 2012

By Emily Firgens

According to a recent study, low-income 4 year-old children who attend child care centers that participate in the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) consume more milk and vegetables and are less likely to be overweight or underweight than children attending centers that do not participate in the program. CACFP, an initiative of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food and Nutrition Service, reimburses caregivers for meals and snacks served to children in child care centers, preschools, family child care homes, after-school programs, and homeless shelters. In this first-of-its-kind study comparing the nutrition and health outcomes of children attending CACFP-participating child care to their peers, researchers looked at the impact CACFP has on young children's nutrition and health status.

Using information from the Early Child Longitudinal Study-Birth cohort (ECLS-B), researchers compared the food intake, food security, and weight and height of preschoolers who attended child care centers that participated in CACFP and preschoolers who attended non-participating CACFP centers. The study looks at all children in child care, but it also looks at specific subsets of low-income children and low-income children who do not attend Head Start (Head Start programs are required to participate in CACFP) to determine the effect CACFP has on the nutrition and health outcomes of each group.

While the study's results did not show an overwhelming association between participation in CACFP and improved nutritional outcomes across all groups, the low-income, non-Head Start CACFP participants did have increased consumption of milk and vegetables, and CACFP had a significant impact on reducing the number of underweight and overweight children who are low-income, non-Head Start participants. Researchers also found that CACFP may also reduce the risk of food insecurity for families and children attending CACFP-participating centers.

The past few decades have seen dramatic increases in the number of overweight and obese children, putting them at greater risk of poor health. Moreover, increases in child poverty and food insecurity make it critical that those providing care to children in settings outside their home are educated and supported in providing young children with healthy food options. CACFP is an important partner in the early childhood system and another example of how federal investments are making a difference in the lives of low-income families. This latest study confirms its importance as a critical support for promoting low-income children's health.

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