SMU economists examine fighting hunger through social networks

Daniel Millimet

SMU economists examine fighting hunger through social networks

SMU economics researchers will analyze the roles social networks and isolation play in fighting hunger in North Texas.

Recent studies have found that household economic resources are not the only factor contributing to food insecurity, according to SMU economist Tom Fomby. About 1 in 6 U.S. households are affected by food insecurity, meaning there’s not enough food at all times to sustain active, healthy lives for all family members, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“This study will analyze the role of other factors causing food insecurity, such as urban or rural settings, access to nutrition assistance programs, access to inexpensive groceries, family support and social stigma,” Fomby said.

Fomby, professor of economics and director of the Richard B. Johnson Center for Economic Studies, and Daniel Millimet, SMU professor of economics, are conducting the study. A $120,000 grant from the North Texas Food Bank is funding the research. The study will be complete in March 2014.

Although household income is the single most powerful predictor of food security, poverty and hunger are not synonymous. According to Feeding America, 28 percent of food insecure residents in Dallas County are ineligible for most nutrition assistance programs because they have incomes above 185 percent of the federal poverty level; and the U. S. Department of Agriculture reports that 58.9 percent of U.S. households with incomes below the poverty level are food secure. The reasons for this are not well understood.

“With this research, we expect to better understand the causes of food insecurity in North Texas and improve the assessment of at-risk households,” Fomby said.

The SMU study is one of two major research projects launching The Hunger Center of North Texas, a new collaborative research initiative created by the North Texas Food Bank. The University of North Texas is also collaborating on a study.

“We believe that this research will be groundbreaking,” said Richard Amory, director of research for the North Texas Food Bank. “Nutrition assistance programs tend to approach individuals and households in isolation. Understanding the role that communities play in food security may help us leverage social forces to develop more effective programs and, ultimately, reduce the need for food assistance.”

SMU and the North Texas Food Bank recently formed a partnership, “Stampede Against Hunger,” to build on the University community’s strong support for NTFB, connecting campus groups already working with the food bank, as well as encouraging new types of participation for the campus and alumni community.

The University’s support for the food bank has ranged from traditional food drives and volunteer work in the NTFB distribution center, to research for the food bank conducted by students in the Cox School of Business and the Bobby B. Lyle School of Engineering.

Faculty and students from the Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development volunteer regularly in NTFB nutrition courses, and Fondren Library staff organize a “Food for Fines” drive each year, waiving library fines in exchange for donations of non-perishable food items.

Written by Nancy George, with the NTFB

> Read the full story at the SMU Research blog

November 12, 2012|News, Research|

Research Spotlight: Federal school lunches linked to child obesity

School lunch kidsWith children going back to school, parents are concerned that their youngsters are staying fit and eating right, especially those who dine in a school cafeteria.

New research funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture finds that children who eat school lunches that are part of the federal government’s National School Lunch Program are more likely to become overweight.

The same research study found, however, that children who eat both the breakfast and lunch sponsored by the federal government are less heavy than children who don’t participate in either, and than children who eat only the lunch, says SMU economist Daniel Millimet.

Millimet authored the study with economists Rusty Tchernis, Georgia State University, and Muna S. Hussain, Kuwait University.

“The fact that federally funded school lunches contribute to the childhood obesity epidemic is disconcerting, although not altogether surprising,” said Millimet, whose research looks at the economics of children, specifically topics related to schooling and health.

The new study was published in the Summer issue of The Journal of Human Resources. It is titled “School Nutrition Programs and the Incidence of Childhood Obesity.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture oversees the federal lunch and breakfast programs. Through USDA the federal government reimburses schools for a portion of school lunch costs and also donates surplus agricultural food items. While USDA does require that the meals meet certain nutritional standards, schools choose the specific foods.

Schools also can serve individual food items à la carte, which fall outside the scope of the federal guidelines and allow students to choose additional foods.

For their study, the researchers analyzed data on more than 13,500 elementary school students. Students were interviewed in kindergarten, first and third grades, and then again in later grades.

“First, it is very difficult to plan healthy but inviting school lunches at a low price,” Millimet said. “Second, given the tight budgets faced by many school districts, funding from the sales of à la carte lunch items receives high priority.

“That said, it’s comforting to know that the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the federal school nutrition programs, takes the issue very seriously. The USDA sponsors not only my research, but that of others as well, to investigate the issues and possible solutions.”

Judging from the results of the study, Millimet said, the food being served in school lunches may not maintain a healthy weight in children. The food in school breakfasts appears to be healthier, however.

“Technically what is going on is that the federal government establishes nutrition guidelines for lunches and breakfasts if schools wish to receive federal funding,” Millimet said. “But there’s evidence that school lunches are less in compliance with these guidelines than breakfasts. The other possible issue is that these days schools try to make money from a la carte items at lunch. And it’s possible that even if the school lunch is healthy, kids buying lunch are more likely to tack on extra items that are not healthy.”

The National Student Lunch Program supplies meals to about 30 million children in 100,000 public and nonprofit private schools, according to the USDA. The School Breakfast Program gives cash assistance to more than 80,000 schools for about 10 million children.

The study cites data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey taken between 1971 and 1974 and again from 2003 to 2004 that found the prevalence of overweight preschool children ages 2-5 jumped from 5 percent to 13.9 percent. Among school-aged children, it jumped from 4 percent to 18.8 percent for children 6-11; and 6.1 percent to 17.4 percent for those 12-19.

Written by Margaret Allen

> Read more from the SMU Research blog

September 8, 2010|Research|

Research Spotlight: Four professors named 2010 Ford Fellows

SMU's 2010 Ford Research FellowsFour outstanding SMU researchers have received the University’s 2010 Ford Research Fellowships. This year’s recipients are Jaime Clark-Soles, New Testament, Perkins School of Theology; Ernie Jouriles, Psychology, Dedman College; Daniel Millimet, Economics, Dedman College; and Brent Sumerlin, Chemistry, Dedman College.

Established in 2002 through a $1 million pledge from SMU Trustee Gerald J. Ford, the fellowships help the University retain and reward outstanding scholars. Each recipient receives a cash prize for research support during the year.

Read more about this year’s recipients under the link.

(Above, the new Ford Research Fellows were honored by the SMU Board of Trustees during its May meeting (left to right): Brent Sumerlin, Jaime Clark-Soles, Daniel Millimet and Ernie Jouriles. Photo by Hillsman S. Jackson.)

(more…)

May 18, 2010|News, Research|
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