As many as 1 in 8 low-income families make ends meet by watering down the formula they feed their infants.
New research by the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center has found that 15 percent of parents who bring their children to an inner-city clinic admit to diluting their babies’ formula or cutting feeding times.
The study, published in the journal Clinical Pediatrics, noted the trend held true even though families were participating in government assistance programs.
Overall, the study found about 30 percent of the families receiving public assistance remain at high risk of “food insecurity” –the inability to afford enough food to meet basic nutritional needs.
“We were surprised to find one in three families worried about putting food on the table,” said Dr. Andrew Beck, a pediatrician at Cincinnati Children’s and one of the study’s authors. “Food insecurity tends to be an invisible problem, forcing families to make difficult choices between nutrition and other essential needs.”
Two-thirds of the families in the federal Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program – which provides nutrition basics for low-income women with children – reported running out of WIC-supplied formula toward the end of most months, researchers found.
Among food-insecure families, 27 percent reported watering down formula or reducing feedings, which can have serious health consequences for babies’ developing brains, leading to cognitive, behavioral and psychological issues.
In 2009 WIC decreased the amount of formula provided to infants over the age of six months.
“We’re seeing the effects of those changes in our urban clinics, highlighting that WIC is truly a supplemental program,” said Dr. Mary Carol Burkhardt, lead author of the study. “I would venture to say that cities with similar demographics and poverty levels are seeing some of the same behaviors found in our study.”
To reach their conclusions, researchers polled 144 parents of infants who attended the hospital’s Pediatric Primary Care Center using a 37-question survey.