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Food insecurity poses threat to health, development of young children

05 Oct 2019

Lack of reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food is detrimental to young children, as it results in fair-to-poor health and increased developmental risk, according to a study.

The study involved a multiethnic sample of 28,184 children aged <48 months (mean age, 18.5 months; 46 percent female; 50 percent were non-Hispanic African American, 34 percent Hispanic and 14 percent non-Hispanic white). Of the children, 14 percent weighed <2,500 g at birth, 64 percent had been breastfed, 16 percent were obese, 8 percent were underweight and 12 percent were stunted. Health was fair or poor in 11 percent of the children, while 12 percent were at developmental risk.

Researchers used the Household Food Security Survey Module to define three exposure groups: food secure (72.7 percent), household food insecure and child food secure (HFI/child secure; 14 percent), and household food insecure and child food insecure (HFI/CFI; 13.3 percent).

Multivariable regression analyses revealed that compared with food secure group, the HFI/CFI group was significantly more likely to have fair or poor health (odds ratio [OR] range, 1.55–1.91) and be at increased developmental risk (OR range, 1.35–1.49) across 0 to 12, 13 to 24, 25 to 36, and 37 to 48 months of age.

On the other hand, neither household nor child food insecurity showed an association with obesity. This might be partially explained by the increasing rates of obesity overall, according to the researchers, suggesting that young children who grow up in a low-income environment are exposed to obesogenic factors including lack of access to healthy grocery stores, overabundance of fast food outlets and increased screen time, regardless of food security status.

The present data support current recommendations for food insecurity screening and referrals to help families cope with economic hardships and associated stressors, the researchers said.

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