Food insecurity increases US children’s risk of obesity, says study

By Caroline Scott-Thomas

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Nutrition

New research from the American Dietetic Association has found a "paradoxical correlation" between obesity and food insecurity – defined as lack of access to food, or nutritionally adequate food – in young American children.

The study examined the diets of 8,500 low-income children from ethnically and racially diverse households aged between one month and five years, and found that while food insecurity and obesity were related, there were variations with sex and age. Of the sample, 31 percent were from households with food insecurity (8.3 percent with hunger) and 18.4 percent were overweight. But girls aged two to five from households with food insecurity (HFInsec) with hunger were most likely to be overweight and girls under two from the same type of household were least likely to be overweight.

Writing in the article, lead author Elizabeth Metallinos-Katsaras said: “The findings of this study suggest that HFInsec is associated with overweight prevalence in low income ethnically and racially diverse girls…Qualitative research is needed to establish the underlying behaviors that may affect the development of childhood overweight among families with uncertain and limited food availability and how these behaviors may vary by sex.”

However, the authors did hypothesize that lower weight in the first two years could be related to poor maternal nutrition during pregnancy, leading to low birth weights.

“It is unclear why no association between household food insecurity and overweight was found in boys younger than 2 years old,”​ they wrote.

As for the possible reasons for the link, the authors said that food insecurity acts as a “psychological or emotional stressor”​ that affects the behavior of both parents and children.

“This may help to explain sex differences in the effects of household food insecurity because there is evidence that boys and girls react to life stress and acute stress differently,”​ they wrote.

Other possible reasons for the link include energy-dense, low-nutrient diets, and lack of stable food supply, resulting in overeating when food is available.

Source: Journal of the American Dietetic Association,​ October 2009

Vol. 109, Iss. 10, pp. 1790-1794

“Food Insecurity Is Associated with Overweight in Children < 5 Year​s”

Authors: Elizabeth Metallinos-Katsaras, Bettylou Sherry, Jan Kallio

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