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Young People with Disabilities Vulnerable to Food Insecurity

Young people with disabilities are likelier to be “food insecure,” or have trouble affording adequate food, than other young people, two recent studies show.  These studies echo earlier findings that working-age adults with disabilities also are likelier to be food insecure.  Having a family member with a disability can both raise costs and lower earnings, making it harder to meet basic needs such as food.

One study, in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, concerns children with special health needs: chronic physical, developmental, emotional, or behavioral conditions requiring extra medical and therapeutic attention, which can be expensive and time-consuming.  It found:

  • Households with children who have special needs are 24 percent likelier to be food insecure than similar households whose children don’t have special needs.
  • Children with special needs who receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits are about 50 percent likelier to live in food-insecure households than children with special needs who don’t get SSI.  Children receiving SSI are both severely disabled and poor, so they may face greater expenses and have fewer resources than other children.
  • Children with special needs often require special diets.  (Diabetes and cystic fibrosis are two examples.)  This raises their food costs and makes them even more vulnerable than other children to the health and developmental effects of food insecurity. 
  • SSI and SNAP (formerly food stamps) help low-income families whose children have special needs.  But many families still struggle to afford enough food for an active and healthy life.

The authors recommend raising SNAP benefits for families with children who have special needs to lower the risk of food insecurity.

The risk of food insecurity doesn’t end with childhood.  Young adults with disabilities are much likelier to experience food insecurity than other young adults, a recent study in Disability and Health Journal shows. The study examined 18- to 25-year-olds using three different indicators of disability:

  • Young adults who answered yes to any of six Census questions on disability (on whether they had difficulty with hearing, seeing, cognition, ambulation, self-care, or independent living) were two and a half times likelier to live in food-insecure households than otherwise similar young adults.
  • Young adults who reported being under psychological distress were more than five times likelier to live in food-insecure households than otherwise similar young adults.
  • Young adults who received SSI or Social Security Disability Insurance had much higher food insecurity rates than non-recipients.

The authors recommend that policymakers focus on the food needs of young adults with disabilities navigating the often-difficult transition to adulthood.