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Heat or Eat? Cold Weather Shocks and Nutrition in Poor American Families

  • Author(s): Bhattacharya, Jay
  • DeLeire, Thomas C
  • Haider, Steven
  • Currie, Janet
  • et al.
Abstract

We examine the effects of cold weather periods on family budgets and on nutritional outcomes in poor American families. Expenditures on food and home fuels are tracked by linking the Consumer Expenditure Survey to temperature data. Using the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, we track calorie consumption, dietary quality, vitamin deficiencies, and anemia in summer and winter months. We find that both rich and poor families increase fuel expenditures in response to unusually cold weather (a 10 degree F drop below normal). At same time, poor families reduce food expenditures by roughly the same amount as the increase in fuel expenditures, while rich families increase food expenditures. Poor adults and children reduce caloric intake by roughly 200 calories during winter months, unlike richer adults and children. In sensitivity analyses, we find that decreases in food expenditure are most pronounced outside the South. We conclude that poor parents and their children outside the South spend and eat less food during cold weather temperature shocks. We surmise that existing social programs fail to buffer against these shocks.

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