Heat or eat: The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program and nutritional and health risks among children less than 3 years of age

Deborah A. Frank, Nicole Neault Neault, Anne Skalicky, John T. Cook, Jacqueline D. Wilson, Suzette Levenson, Alan F. Meyers, Timothy Heeren, Diana B. Cutts, Patrick H. Casey, Maureen M. Black, Carol Berkowitz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

OBJECTIVES. Public funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program has never been sufficient to serve more than a small minority of income-eligible households. Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program funding has not increased with recent rapidly rising energy costs, harsh winter conditions, or higher child poverty rates. Although a national performance goal for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program is to increase the percentage of recipient households having ≥1 member ≤5 years of age, the association of income-eligible households' receipt of the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program with indicators of well-being in young children has not been evaluated previously. The goal of the current study was to evaluate the association between a family's participation or nonparticipation in the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program and the anthropometric status and health of their young children. METHODS. In the ongoing Children's Sentinel Nutrition Assessment Project from June 1998 through December 2004, caregivers with children 95th percentile) than those in nonrecipient households. Rates of age-adjusted lifetime hospitalization excluding birth and the day of the interview did not differ between Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program recipient groups. Among the 4445 of 7074 children evaluated in the 2 emergency departments, children from eligible households not receiving the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program had greater adjusted odds than those in recipient households of acute hospital admission on the day of the interview. CONCLUSIONS. Even within a low-income renter sample, Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program benefits seem to reach families at the highest social and medical risk with more food insecurity and higher rates of low birth-weight children. Nevertheless, after adjustment for differences in background risk, living in a household receiving the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program is associated with less anthropometric evidence of undernutrition, no evidence of increased overweight, and lower odds of acute hospitalization from an emergency department visit among young children in low-income renter households compared with children in comparable households not receiving the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program in many states shuts down early each winter when their funding is exhausted. From a clinical perspective, pediatric health providers caring for children from impoverished families should consider encouraging families of these children to apply for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program early in the season before funding is depleted. From a public policy perspective, although this cross-sectional study design can only demonstrate associations and not causation, these findings suggest that, particularly as fuel costs and children's poverty rates increase, expanding the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program funding and meeting the national Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program performance goal of increasing the percentage of recipient households with young children might potentially benefit such children's growth and health.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalPediatrics
Volume118
Issue number5
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2006
Externally publishedYes

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Keywords

  • Child nutrition
  • Food security
  • Growth
  • Hospitalizations
  • Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health

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