The Center for Hunger-Free Communities

Solutions Based on Science and the Human Experience

Research Briefs

Research action briefs provide a brief summary of the Center's research. Briefs include summaries of our peer reviewed publications and those created to support the Center's Building Wealth and Health Network.

(July 2020)

Public health research and interventions often focus on important but siloed areas such as food, energy, and housing rather than on a comprehensive approach to economic insecurity. This singular focus limits opportunities to break down the structural racism found in financial, health, and social service systems that has created significant disparities in wealth along racial lines. This study presented financial health as a key factor impacting physical and mental health. Using survey data from the Building Wealth and Health Network, it introduced financial health as a measurable concept underlying these other elements of economic hardship that can contribute to greater health equity. The study demonstrated that financial health has a significant impact on overall well-being and belongs in the discussion of social determinants of health.

(May 2020)

Food insecurity is a major public health challenge associated with developmental and health risks for both children and adults. Participation in a trauma-informed educational program reduced the odds of household food insecurity for families with low or no income. Addressing the social, behavioral, and emotional issues associated with household food insecurity is a promising approach to improving economic security for the long term. This research contributes to the growing evidence that trauma-informed approaches promote health and wellbeing and shows they also improve economic security.

(November 2019)

When children are exposed to very challenging experiences, their health suffers. In our recent study, “Adverse Childhood Experiences and Household Food Insecurity: Findings from the 2016 National Survey of Children’s Health,” we found that across the U.S., families reporting Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), such as domestic violence, neighborhood violence, and family substance abuse, were much more likely to experience household food insecurity.

(October 2018)

Program outcomes show all participants,including those with high childhood adversity, showed significant improvements in outcomes relating to economic security, physical and mental health, and social support up to one year after program participation. 

(January 2018)

The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program has limited success in building self-sufficiency, and it rarely addresses exposure to trauma as a barrier to employment. Many TANF recipients have a work-limiting health condition, and high rates of exposure to violence and adversity in their families and communities. These hardships are closely linked to depression, cardiovascular disease, poor cognitive functioning, and food insecurity, which in turn hinder work prospects and stable income. This research brief describes how the Building Wealth and Health Network (The Network) addresses this through combining financial empowerment, trauma-informed peer support, and matched savings to more effectively support TANF participants and their families. 

(November 2017)

By focusing strictly on job search and work participation, the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program creates barriers that limit participants’ ability to find and keep a job. TANF will not be successful without proper attention to adversity and poor health experienced by TANF participants. TANF outcomes could improve if programing included comprehensive approaches to promote social support and build resilience, which have been shown to limit the negative effects of exposure to violence and adversity.

(November 2017)

Post-program outcomes indicate positive impacts on food security, self-rated health, depression, employment, and savings account participation.

(October 2017)

If mothers experienced adversity in their childhoods, their young children are more likely to experience risks to their physical, social, and cognitive development. Mothers’ physical and mental health may help to explain the relationship between their own childhood adversity and their children’s development.

(September 2017)

Research from Children’s HealthWatch-Philadelphia shows that food insecurity, or lack of access to enough food for an active and healthy life, is increasing at the household and child level for families of children under age 4. In families with a caregiver working at least 20 hours per week, food insecurity is rising even faster.

(October 2016)

Families with children under age six participating in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) must participate in education & training or other work-related activities for 20 hours per week. However, with high rates of financial hardship, poor health, and exposure to violence and adversity, families may have difficulty reaching self-sufficiency. 

(May 2016)

Female caregivers exposed to Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), including abuse, neglect, and household instability in childhood, are more likely to report food insecurity as adults and among their own children, particularly if they also experience depressive symptoms. This research & policy brief describes results from a study of 1255 female caregivers of children under age 4 in Philadelphia and offers policy recommendations to address the intergenerational transmission of hardship.

(January 2015)

A summary of the research article "The Relationship between Childhood Adversity and Food Insecurity: 'It's like a bird nesting in your head'" published in Public Health Nutrition.  The article discusses an investigation between Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), including abuse, neglect, and household instability - and current household food insecurity among thirty-one female caregivers who reported household food insecurity. 

Sanctions are federally mandated penalties imposed on TANF recipients who do not comply with work requirements.  Individual states have autonomy to decide what form sanctions will take; sanctions may be individual or full family, partial or full reduction in cash benefits, and temporary or permanent.  The logic behind the imposition of sanctions is that the penalties serve as a motivator to comply with federally-mandated work rules, and will be a negative consequence for non-compliance – a “carrot and stick” approach.  This research brief focuses on who tends to be sanctioned, the outcomes of sanctions, and the wellbeing of those who have been sanctioned.  

Focus groups are a fast and effective way to elicit information and perspectives from a variety of key informants simultaneously.  In public health, it is often a standard research methodology that is used to gauge health beliefs, perform needs assessments, and evaluate programs. Focus groups are an important tool in program development and evaluation, as they provide the contextual information necessary for a program that meets the needs of the population in focus. This research brief describes focus groups and the settings in which they are used, their use in program development and evaluation, and some considerations for conducting effective focus group research. 


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