U.S. Child Nutritional Policy and the Production of Cognitive and Educational Inequality
Margot Jackson

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship

Award Year



Brown University

Primary Discipline

For the 20% of American children who live in poverty, and the 23% of children who live in food insecure households, nutritional policy provides an essential safety net against hunger and its negative effects on child development. Federal nutrition assistance programs provide the benefit of steadily available nutritious food from the food groups essential for physical and cognitive development. Their effects on dietary quality and the reduction of micronutrient deficiencies are strong and positive. Furthermore, there is a direct influence of nutrition on cognitive development and socioeconomic inequality. Such evidence provides a strong rationale for examining the role of nutritional policy in the production of early cognitive and social inequality. Yet, research on the cognitive and educational effects of U.S. childhood nutritional policy is scarce. In addition, existing research largely assumes in its empirical approach that intervention timing is unimportant—that is, it does not consider when in the early life cycle nutritional policy might be most effectively targeted, as well as for how long. The purpose of this project is to examine whether the timing and duration of children’s exposure to nutritional policy produce short and longer-term cognitive and educational gains. I will examine three policies targeted at children: the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and the National School Breakfast and Lunch Programs (SBP and NSLP). Examining programs both independently and jointly, I ask: 1) Are nutrition interventions most effective when participation occurs very early?; and 2) Does receiving both early and late intervention produce larger educational gains than shorter-term intervention? This research is relevant to public policy while having a strong theoretical grounding—engaging literatures on child development, life course theory and social stratification—making it well-suited to advance our understanding of fundamental theoretical questions about the dynamics of health and social inequality in the early life cycle.
About Margot Jackson

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