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A Longitudinal Study of Food Insecurity on Obesity in Preschool Children

Published:November 20, 2012DOI:



      Obesity and its co-occurrence with household food insecurity among low-income families is a public health concern, particularly because both are associated with later adverse health consequences.


      Our aim was to examine the relationship between household food insecurity with and without hunger in infancy and later childhood with weight status at 2 to 5 years.


      This longitudinal study uses household food-security status, weight, and height data collected at the first infancy and last child (2 to 5 years) Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children visits. Household food security was based on parent/caretaker responses to a four-question subscale of the 18-item Core Food Security Module. Obesity was defined as sex-specific body mass index for age ≥95th percentile.


      A diverse (58.6% non-white) low-income sample of 28,353 children participating in the Massachusetts Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (2001-2006); 24.9% of infants and 23.1% of children lived in food-insecure households and 17.1% were obese at their last child visit.

      Statistical analysis

      Multivariate logistic regression analyses assessed the association between household food-security status during the infant and child visits, and risk of preschool obesity, while controlling for child race/Hispanic ethnicity, sex, child and household size, maternal age, education, and prepregnancy weight. Interactions between these covariates and household food-security status were also examined. In cases of multiple comparisons, a Bonferroni correction was applied.


      Persistent household food insecurity without hunger was associated with 22% greater odds of child obesity (odds ratio=1.22; 95% CI 1.06 to 1.41) compared with those persistently food secure (P<0.05). Maternal prepregnancy weight status modified this association with children of underweight (adjusted odds ratio=3.22; 95% CI 1.70 to 6.11; P=0.003) or overweight/obese (adjusted odds ratio=1.34; 95% CI 1.11 to 1.62; P=0.03) mothers experiencing greater odds of child obesity with persistent household food insecurity without hunger compared with those with persistent household food security.


      These results suggest that persistent household food insecurity without hunger is prospectively related to child obesity, but that these associations depend on maternal weight status. Vulnerable groups should be targeted for early interventions to prevent overweight and obesity later in life.


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      E. Metallinos-Katsaras is an associate professor and director of the Didactic Program in Dietetics, Department of Nutrition, Simmons College, Boston, MA


      A. Must is a professor and chair, Department of Public Health and Community Medicine, and dean, Public Health & Professional Degree Programs, Tufts University School of Medicine, Medford, MA


      K. Gorman is a professor, Department of Psychology, and director, Feinstein Center for a Hunger Free America, University of Rhode Island, Kingston