Food Insecurity, Health, and Development in Children Under Age Four Years


Food insecurity and pediatric obesity affect young children. We examine how food insecurity relates to obesity, underweight, stunting, health, and development among children <4 years of age.


Caregivers of young children participated in a cross-sectional survey at medical centers in 5 US cities. Inclusion criteria were age of <48 months. Exclusion criteria were severely ill or injured and private health insurance. The Household Food Security Survey Module defined 3 exposure groups: food secure, household food insecure and child food secure, and household food insecure and child food insecure. Dependent measures were obesity (weight-age >90th percentile), underweight (weight-age <5th percentile), stunting (height/length-age <5th percentile), and caregiver-reported child health and developmental risk. Multivariable logistic regression analyses, adjusted for demographic confounders, maternal BMI, and food assistance program participation examined relations between exposure groups and dependent variables, with age-stratification: 0 to 12, 13 to 24, 25 to 36, and 37 to 48 months of age.


Within this multiethnic sample (N = 28 184 children, 50% non-Hispanic African American, 34% Hispanic, 14% non-Hispanic white), 27% were household food insecure. With 1 exception at 25 to 36 months, neither household nor child food insecurity were associated with obesity, underweight, or stunting, but both were associated with increased odds of fair or poor health and developmental risk at multiple ages.


Among children <4 years of age, food insecurity is associated with fair or poor health and developmental risk, not with anthropometry. Findings support American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations for food insecurity screening and referrals to help families cope with economic hardships and associated stressors.

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