The Link Between Food Insecurity and Childhood Obesity

August 5, 2020

photo of empty plate with sad face and fork and knifeIn the past, very limited research existed on the relationship between food insecurity and children’s adiposity (obesity) and diet, as well as how it varies between demographics in the US. This changed in September of 2019 when The Journal of Nutrition released a study assessing the correlation between food insecurity and variables such as body mass index (BMI), waist circumference, and diet outcomes. Conducted by Dr. Lauren Au (University of California Nutrition Policy Institute) and colleagues, the study analyzed data collected in 2013-2015 from 5,138 US schoolchildren ages 4-15 from 130 communities in the Healthy Communities Study.

Using multilevel statistical models, including tests for interaction by age, sex, and race/ethnicity, Au et. al. found a number of enlightening relationships. Children living in food-insecure households had higher BMI-z, waist circumference, and odds of being overweight or obese than children living in food secure households. When examined by age, “these associations were true only for older children (10-15 years old), consistent with a life-course perspective which emphasizes that obesity does not occur spontaneously but rather develops over time.” Au et. al. also highlighted that, “people living in poverty may concurrently experience high levels of food insecurity and high levels of obesity, which is also relevant in explaining the association between household food insecurity and child adiposity.”

This study is a breakthrough for understanding the relationship between food insecurity and high child adiposity-related outcomes. However, it is clear that more research is needed to better understand the complexities of food insecurity, childhood obesity, and further health outcomes.

To read more about the methods and results of this study visit The Journal of Nutrition.
To read a brief overview of the study visit the American Society for Nutrition website.

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