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Government Assistance Linked to Better Child Development
Date:3/7/2008

Cash support to poor families boosted physical, mental scores, study finds

FRIDAY, March 7 (HealthDay News) -- Extra government financial support of poor families boosts children's physical and mental development, a U.S. study concludes.

Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley found that children in low-income families in Mexico who received an extra amount of cash from a government-run conditional cash transfer program were taller, less likely to be overweight, and scored higher on motor, cognitive and language tests than children in families that received less money.

The findings were published in the March 8 issue of The Lancet.

Cash benefits in traditional welfare programs are based on a family's income or residence in a specific geographical area. Conditional cash transfer programs give money to low-income families if they meet specific requirements, such as making sure their children attend school or get vaccinated. Food and nutritional supplements are also included in some of these programs, according to background information in the study.

"Previous research has shown positive outcomes for child development from conditional cash transfer programs, but the general assumption, particularly from the public health perspective, was that the improvements were the result of the health and education components rather than the cash. This new study is the first to tease out the impact of the money from the other elements of the program." lead author Lia Fernald, assistant professor in public health nutrition at UC Berkeley's School of Public Health, said in a prepared statement.

Fernald and her colleagues didn't analyze exactly how the extra cash boosted child development but believe the additional money helped families buy more nutritious food or medicine, or perhaps purchase items for the home -- such as a refrigerator or a covering for a dirt floor -- that improve their
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