A high proportion of children in the United States are overweight, suffer from food insecurity, and live in households facing maternal stressors. The objective of this article was to identify the associations of food insecurity and maternal stressors with childhood overweight among low-income children. We hypothesized that maternal stressors may exacerbate the relationship between food insecurity and child obesity.
The sample included 841 children (3-17 years old) and their mothers with incomes below 200% of the poverty line from the 1999-2002 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Food insecurity was based on US Department of Agriculture protocol, maternal stressors were assessed from survey questions, and BMI was used to classify weight status. Probit regression models predicted the probability of a child being overweight or obese.
In most specifications, there was no direct association between food insecurity or maternal stressors and overweight for children of any age. Among 3- to 10-year-olds, the interaction of food insecurity and maternal stressors was significantly linked to the probability of being overweight; more specifically, an increase in maternal stressors amplified a food secure child's probability of being overweight or obese. This result is robust to alternative specifications. However, these results were not found among 11- and 17-year-old youth.
Younger children in food secure, low-income households in the United States who are experiencing higher levels of maternal stressors have a greater probability of being overweight than food insecure children. This finding was contrary to the hypothesis; 3 reasons for this are covered in the article. Those who create policies that address childhood obesity could consider the benefits to low-income children's well-being resulting from reducing their mothers' stressors. Because most children in the United States are food secure, these policies could have a profound impact on childhood overweight.