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Yana van der Meulen Rodgers, Ph.D.

Associate Professor, Women's and Gender Studies, Rutgers University
Ph.D., Harvard University, 1993

Professor Rodgers' research examines issues related to children's nutritional status, development economics, and the economics of gender. She is currently writing a book on the links between maternal employment and children's health status in developing countries. Recent research has examined maternal education and the nutritional status of children, using readily available Demographic and Health Survey data. She has also written on innovations in food assistance programs in the United States and community food systems in New Jersey.

Figure: Sample Districts in New Jersey.
Figure: Sample Districts in New Jersey.

Theme 1: Local Government Coordination of Community Food Systems in Distressed Urban Areas.

This research examined public coordination of community food systems in fifteen distressed New Jersey cities with unusually high unemployment rates, large immigrant populations, high levels of poverty and an extraordinary reliance on school nutrition programs. Using key informant interviews with municipal officials and calls to school districts and city departments, we found a large variation in the ability of these city governments to coordinate food assistance programs, provide information about food programs to people in need, and plan for expanded food market choices. A few of the sampled city governments created local capacity to meet the nutritional needs of impoverished residents, but many did not recognize food security as part of their mission.

Theme 2: Food Assistance Through the School System

A backpack.
Figure: Food for Kids backpack.

Numerous public and private initiatives in the United States work to mitigate food insecurity and its unwelcome repercussions for children's health and well-being. An increasingly popular program, the Food For Kids program originated by the Arkansas Rice Depot, seeks to reduce hunger among school-aged children by distributing ready-to-eat food in backpacks for participating students to take home for evening and weekend meals. This study assesses reasons for participation in the program and its impact on school-level indicators of student behavior and academic performance. Sample statistics from unique surveys made available by the Arkansas Rice Depot, a faith-based food bank, indicate that some parents cannot or do not properly feed their children due to insufficient economic means, illness, drug addiction, or a lack of willingness. The analysis also finds improvements in participating students' self-esteem and behavior at school. Additional results from fixed effects regressions using school report-card data indicate a positive and significant program impact on eighth-grade standardized test scores in math and literacy.

Theme 3: Mother's Education and Children's Nutritional Status

Chart: Children's nutritional status by mother's education.
Figure: Children's nutritional status by mother's education.

This project uses data from Cambodia's 2005 Demographic and Health Survey to examine how three measures of children's nutritional status vary by mother's educational attainment. To identify mechanisms for that association, we study birth size, which depends on factors during gestation; and low height-for-age (stunting) and low weight-for-height (wasting), which are affected by factors that operate after birth. In multivariate specifications that control for socioeconomic status, mother's education is strongly inversely associated with stunting, but not small birth size or wasting. Addition of household composition and environmental factors to the model reduces the association between mother's education and child nutritional outcomes only slightly.

Selected Publications