Recent work on the determinants of obesity has shown a positive association between household food insecurity and overweight status in adult women, yet research exploring this issue in children has been inconclusive. In this study we examine the association between food insecurity and overweight status in young school children by using a large, nationally representative sample.
Data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Kindergarten Cohort (ECLS-K) were analyzed. Replicate heights and weights were measured on kindergarten children (N = 16889) in the spring of 1999. Children with a body mass index > or = 95th percentile of their gender-specific BMI-for-age chart were considered overweight. Food-insecurity status was assessed by using the full 18-question US Department of Agriculture Household Food Security Scale. Multivariate logistic regression was used to assess the relationship between overweight and food-insecurity status while controlling for potential demographic, socioeconomic, and behavioral confounders.
Overall, 11.2% of the girls and 11.8% of the boys were overweight. Children from food-insecure households were 20% less likely to be overweight than their food-secure counterparts. Similar results on the food-insecurity/overweight link were found across a range of different models and expressions for key variables. Positive predictors of overweight status included low physical activity, television watching for > 2 hours/day, high birth weight, black or Latino ethnicity, and low income.
There are strong arguments for reducing food insecurity among households with young children. This research suggests that these arguments would be based on reasons other than a potential link to obesity. Low activity levels and excessive television watching, however, were strongly related to overweight status, a finding that supports continued efforts to intervene in these areas.