Pediatricians from Boston Medical Center are warning that cuts to the nation's food stamp program would endanger childrens' long-term health.

"SNAP acts as a vaccine against food insecurity and hunger," lead author Deborah Frank, MD, Director of the Grow Clinic for Children at BMC wrote in a commentary in last week's issue of Lancet. "Our research consortium, Children's HealthWatch, has for more than a decade accumulated data on the impacts of food insecurity and interventions to decrease food insecurity among low-income babies and young children."

Families with young children are at highest risk of food insecurity, Frank and her colleagues found.

A measure approved in the Republican-led House of Representatives would cut 3.8 million low-income people off the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program in 2014 and an average of nearly 3 million people each year over the next decade.

"Infants and young children in the first three years of life, the most critical period for the growth of the body and brain, are the most physiologically vulnerable to lasting ill effects of food insecurity on health and learning," Frank continued. "Our research, and that of many others, has convinced us that food insecurity -- which affects approximately 16 million U.S. children (21.6 percent) -- is one of the greatest public health threats that our nation faces. SNAP is the most important and effective public health program we have for reducing the health impacts of food insecurity."

The researchers have found that SNAP benefits are associated with decreased rates of low birth weight when provided to pregnant women. SNAP benefits also increase intake of B vitamins, iron, and calcium; and lowers the risk of anemia, obesity, poor health, developmental delays, hospitalization for failure to thrive, low academic test scores, and reports for child abuse or neglect in households with children.

"Scientific evidence shows that SNAP is a wise investment in the brains and bodies of American children, an investment that should be increased, not curtailed," stressed Frank.

[A child goes hungry. Photo:, all rights reserved.]