Federal Food Assistance Programs and Cardiovascular Risk Factors in Low-Income Preschool Children

Document Type


Publication Date

June 2016


Childhood obesity remains a significant public health concern. Children from lower income households have a greater risk of being obese. Low-income families generally have less access to healthy, affordable food choices and turn to federal food assistance programs. Few studies have examined the impact of food assistance programs on childhood obesity rates. This study explored the association between BMI, blood lipid levels, and three food assistance programs (WIC, reduced lunch, and food stamps) in a sample of predominantly low-income, minority preschool children enrolled in a city-wide preschool program. Screenings were performed at on-site health fairs conducted at nine schools in disadvantaged areas. Screenings included vital signs, a finger stick, head-to-toe exam, vision screening, dental screening, and hearing screening. Of the sample of 229 preschool children, 23.1 % were obese, almost three times the national rate in preschoolers. Children whose families received WIC benefits weighed significantly less than those who did not receive benefits. In addition, 20.6 % of the children screened had elevated systolic blood pressures. Of the sample, 33 % had unhealthy triglyceride levels and 46 % had unhealthy HDL levels with those that received WIC benefits having significantly lower levels of LDL cholesterol This study confirms that low-income, minority children in the South continue to be disproportionately affected by overweight and obesity. In addition, the results of this study indicate WIC as a potential public health initiative to combat the childhood obesity epidemic and reduce other cardiovascular risk factors, such as blood lipids and blood pressure.


Journal of Community Health





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