Student Eligibility to Receive Free or Reduced Price School Meals -

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CarambolasTayasuidoPlazaMadre de DiosCaminoBananasAtardecerPájaroRanasPirañaReserva NacionalSelvaPuerto MaldonadoRíoMonoMariposa

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines food insecurity as not having consistent, dependable access to enough food for active, healthy living (1). Approximately one in five U.S. Children live in food-insecure households (2). Food-insecure children are more likely to experience a host of health issues, including developmental, cognitive, behavioral, and mental health problems (3). Among pregnant women, food insecurity is associated with physical and mental health problems, as well as birth complications (3). Children and communities of color are disproportionately affected by food insecurity (3).

Food assistance programs, such as food stamps (ie, SNAP, or CalFresh in California), the Supplemental Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), and the National School Lunch and Help ensure that low-income children, expectant mothers, and families get adequate nutrition. These programs have been shown to reduce poverty, improve child outcomes, and improve children's health in general (4, 5). Student participation in the National School Breakfast Program is also associated with improved school performance and cognitive functioning (6).

Student eligibility for free or reduced price school meals (one measure in this topic) also serves as a useful proxy for family poverty. Income eligibility for these meals goes up to 185% of the federal poverty level, which was about $ 44,000 for a family of four in 2014-2015. The low federal poverty threshold tends to underestimate the extent of poverty, particularly in high-cost areas. Research indicates that families in California can earn two or more times the federal poverty level and still struggle to meet their basic needs (7).

For more information on food security, please see's Research & amp; Links section. Also see's other topics related to Family Economics.

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2. As cited on, Children living in food insecure households . (2016). Gundersen, C., et al., Map the meal gap 2016: Food insecurity and child food insecurity estimates at county level . Feeding America.

3. California Dept. of Public Health, Office of Health Equity. (2015). Portrait of promise: The California statewide plan to promote health and mental health equity . Food Insecurity and Nutrition section. Retrieved from:

4. Gundersen, C. (2015). Food assistance programs and child health. The Future of Children, 25 (1), 91-109. Retrieved from:

5. Rossin-Slater, M. (2015). Promoting health in early childhood. The Future of Children, 25 (1), 35-64. Retrieved from:

6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2014). Health and academic achievement . Retrieved from: