Heat or Eat? Cold-Weather Shocks and Nutrition in Poor American Families

Published in: American Journal of Public Health, v. 93, no. 7, July 2003, p. 1149-1154

Posted on RAND.org on January 01, 2003

by Jay Bhattacharya, Thomas DeLeire, Steven Haider, Janet Currie

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OBJECTIVES: The authors sought to determine the effects of cold-weather periods on budgets and nutritional outcomes among poor American families. METHODS: The Consumer Expenditure Survey was used to track expenditures on food and home fuels, and the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey was used to track calorie consumption, dietary quality, vitamin deficiencies, and anemia. RESULTS: Both poor and richer families increased fuel expenditures in response to unusually cold weather. Poor families reduced food expenditures by roughly the same amount as their increase in fuel expenditures, whereas richer families increased food expenditures. CONCLUSIONS: Poor parents and their children spend less on and eat less food during cold-weather budgetary shocks. Existing social programs fail to buffer against these shocks.

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