In the Know

Hunger and Test Performance

Any teacher can tell you there is a relationship between poor nutrition and poor student performance. Children just can’t think when they don’t have food in their stomachs. Now new evidence shows a connection between a lack of nutrition at home and poor performance on mathematics tests.

In a study released in 2017, researchers found a link between poor test performance and the time of month in which a family’s food stamps from the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) run low.

The study was based on student performance in South Carolina. But University of Wisconsin economics professor Chad Cotti says results may be generalized to other locations because “regardless of the state, households receive all of their SNAP assistance on one given day.”

Cotti notes that there is a time near the end of an existing SNAP cycle (such as the week before receipt of the next month’s SNAP dollars) when children in a SNAP household are in a relatively lower caloric state.

“Our results indicate that during this period academic performance is reduced.”

What is not clear is whether poor performance is from lack of food or reaction to stress in the household because food is running out. Now that research has been established, however, solutions are being considered. One possibility: Distribute food stamps twice a month — as long as there are not unintended consequences of students being hungry twice a month rather than once.

Read the study at tinyurl.com/SNAPstudy.

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