Paradoxically, Food Insecurity May be Underlying Contributor to Overweight

New Study Shows Link in Children Under 5 Years of Age

St. Louis, MO, 1 October 2009 – Both household food insecurity (HFInsec) and childhood overweight are significant problems in the United States. Paradoxically, being food-insecure may be an underlying contributor to being overweight. A study of almost 8,500 low-income children ages 1 month to 5 years, published in the October 2009 issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, suggests an association between household food insecurity and overweight prevalence in this low-income population. However, sex and age appear to modify both the magnitude and direction of the association.

Food insecurity is defined as the lack of access to enough food for an active, healthy life, which results from limited or uncertain access to nutritionally adequate and safe foods in socially acceptable ways. In 2004, 11% of households in the United States reported household food insecurity, and households with children younger than 6 years old and black and Hispanic households experienced higher rates of household food insecurity and hunger. Prevalence of household food insecurity and overweight has increased over time and are more prevalent in low-income families.

This cross-sectional study is based on demographic, anthropometric, food security and other health-related data collected from November 1998 through December 1999, on a sample of children and mothers from low income families participating in the Massachusetts Department of Public Health's WIC (Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for the Women, Infants, and Children) Program. Data on the children’s age, sex, parental/caretaker report of child race/ethnicity and maternal education were also collected.

Of the 8,493 children with complete data, 31% of the children were from food-insecure households (8.3% with hunger), and 18.4% of the sample was overweight. Prevalence of HFInsec did not differ significantly by age, sex or maternal education.

Because significant interactions were found between HFInsec and age-group and sex, the researchers separated the subjects into four groups, boys < 2 years old, girls < 2 years old, boys 2-5 years old and girls 2-5 years old. In girls < 2 years old, HFInsec was associated with a lower likelihood of being overweight. No correlation was found for boys < 2 years. In contrast, 2- to 5-year- old girls from households reporting HFInsec with hunger had a 47% higher odds of overweight than those from food secure households. No association was found for HFInsec without hunger among 2-5 year old girls, and again, no association was found among 2-5 year old boys.

Writing in the article, Elizabeth Metallinos-Katsaras, Associate Professor, Department of Nutrition, School for Health Sciences, Simmons College, Boston, states, “The findings of this study suggest that HFInsec is associated with overweight prevalence in low income ethnically and racially diverse girls. Age and sex, however, appear to modify both the magnitude and the directionality of the association. Future research should examine these associations using a longitudinal research design. Moreover, 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.”

The article is “Food Insecurity Is Associated with Overweight in Children < 5 Years” by Elizabeth Metallinos-Katsaras, PhD, RD, Bettylou Sherry, PhD, RD, Jan Kallio, MS, RD, LDN. It appears in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, Volume 109 Issue 10 (October 2009), published by Elsevier.

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Full text of the articles featured above is available upon request. Contact Lynelle Korte at 314-447-9227 orjadamedia@elsevier.com to obtain copies. Journalists wishing to interview the lead author may contact Kalimah Redd Knight at 617-521-2369 or kalimah.knight@simmons.edu.

Notes to Editors
E. Metallinos-Katsaras is an associate professor, Department of Nutrition, School for Health Sciences, Simmons College, Boston, MA.

B. Sherry is an epidemiologist, Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, GA.

J. Kallio is senior associate, Altarum Institute, Portland, ME; at the time of the study, she was director of nutrition services, Nutrition Division, Bureau of Family and Community Health, Department of Public Health, Boston, MA.

About the Journal of the American Dietetic Association
The official journal of the American Dietetic Association the Journal of the American Dietetic Association is the premier source for the practice and science of food, nutrition and dietetics. The monthly, peer-reviewed journal presents original articles prepared by scholars and practitioners and is the most widely read professional publication in the field. The Journal focuses on advancing professional knowledge across the range of research and practice issues such as: nutritional science, medical nutrition therapy, public health nutrition, food science and biotechnology, foodservice systems, leadership and management and dietetics education.

About the American Dietetic Association
The American Dietetic Association is the world’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals. ADA is committed to improving the nation’s health and advancing the profession of dietetics through research, education and advocacy.

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