Solutions Blog

New research on coping strategies of families facing hunger

Coping Strategies (from our friends at FRAC and Children’s Health WatchSnapshots-Masthead-options

“You just have to build a bridge and get over it”: low-income African American caregivers’ coping strategies to manage inadequate food supplies
Low-income African American women caring for small children employ a variety of proactive and reactive strategies when coping with and avoiding food shortages, according to a study published in the Journal of Poverty. Of the twelve low-income families who participated in this qualitative study, many reported that at least some of the time they did not have enough to eat. The study focused on four broad categories of coping strategies that the women used when faced with inadequate food supplies: food-provisioning, food-consumption, social-network, and institutional strategies.

All families monitored food prices and sales, and used multiple stores to get the best prices. Ten of the twelve families, including some who reported having no food shortages, were enrolled in SNAP and uniformly spoke positively about the role of SNAP in helping them meet their families’ food needs. However, fluctuations in SNAP benefit amounts (over time due to various SNAP rules and changes in family circumstances) had both a physical toll on the amount of food they could purchase and an impact on the families’ emotional well-being.

Compared to families who did not experience food shortages, families with inadequate food supplies were more likely to report using social-network coping strategies (i.e., asking kin, significant others, friends, and neighbors for assistance) and food-consumption coping strategies (i.e., eating less, stretching leftovers, and rationing). These families also deployed more coping strategies overall – both proactive and reactive – but despite these efforts still had to manage inadequate food supplies. Families with adequate food supplies, on the other hand, relied more heavily on food-provisioning strategies (i.e., using coupons and buying family packages) as well as institutional strategies (i.e., using SNAP and WIC). They also used social-network strategies, but had economically better-off relatives who could help them without any expectation of reciprocity.

To help families cope with inadequate food supplies, the authors suggested reducing barriers to receiving SNAP and WIC, better publicizing community food resources, and reinforcing proactive nutrition education strategies while teaching key shopping and budgeting skills.

Jarrett RL, Sensoy Bahar O, and Odoms-Young A. “You just have to build a bridge and get over it”: low-income African American caregivers’ coping strategies to manage inadequate food supplies. Journal of Poverty. 2014;18:188-219.

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