The Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) awarded Drs. Falon Smith, PhD, MS and Temitope Erinosho, PhD a grant to understand disparities in access to the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) and develop strategies for equitable dissemination and uptake.
The CACFP is a federally regulated program that provides nutritional benefits to low-income children at early care and education programs (e.g., child care centers, preschools, Head Start). Participation in in CACFP is voluntary and varies widely across states. Further, during the COVID-19 pandemic many early care and education programs stopped using CACFP. As a result, millions of children are at a higher risk for food insecurity. Expanding access to CACFP would improve access to nutritious food for children at risk for food insecurity.
Dr. Smith, in collaboration with researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Indiana University Bloomington, will explore disparities in CACFP participation among early care and education programs across the U.S. This research will identify inequities among early care and education programs that contribute to barriers to access and use of CACFP.
“We know how important access to nutritious food is for healthy child development,” Dr. Smith said. “The use of programs like CACFP has the potential to address food insecurity in our nation’s youngest children. This study aims to generate strategies to increasing the uptake of CACFP in early care and education programs by first assessing disparities in its access across the U.S.”
Past research has identified many reasons why early care and education programs may hesitate to participate in CACFP, including administrative barriers, low reimbursement rates, lack of cooking facilities, difficulty finding vendors to supply meals, and parental preference to send in meals. However, these studies are limited to state-level initiatives with relatively small sample sizes. Additionally, these studies fail to account for the diversity in state-level CACFP policies and their role in facilitating program uptake. Dr. Smith and her team will build on their past research through a nationally representative sample, exploring national- and state-specific contexts that contribute to CACFP access and uptake.
Dr. Smith, managing director of research dissemination for the Children’s Healthy Weight Group at the Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, and Dr. Erinosho, associate professor at Indiana University Bloomington and an alum of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, will serve as co-PIs for this study.
The research team will combine national and state-level data to assess variations in CACFP access and regulations and will collaborate with key informants in states representing four major U.S. regions (southern, northeastern, midwestern, and western) to conduct interviews with early care and education program directors. The findings of this study will be shared with early care and education directors, researchers, and policymakers across the country.
Dr. Falon Smith, PhD, MS, joined the Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention (HPDP) in 2017, where she serves as the managing director of research dissemination for the Children’s Healthy Weight Research Group. During her time at the Center, Dr. Smith has focused on developing and spreading evidence-based health practices for Early Care and Education (ECE) programs nationwide.
Dr. Temitope Erinosho, PhD, is an associate professor at Indiana University Bloomington, where she studies obesity prevention in underserved children and families through interventions that promote nutrition and physical education. Previously, Dr. Erinosho was an assistant professor of nutrition in the Gillings School of Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she also served as an HPDP research fellow.