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Early Childhood Food Insecurity Linked with Worse Health and Development

9/9/2019

A new study in the October 2019 Pediatrics, “Food Insecurity, Health and Development in Children Under Age Four Years,” reinforces earlier findings that link food insecurity with fair or poor health and developmental risk among very young children. However, for most of the age groups examined, results showed no association between food insecurity and either obesity or underweight. For the study, published online September 9, food insecurity was defined as “limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods or limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways.” Focusing on nutritional aspects of food insecurity as well as the economic hardship, stress and anxiety associated with it, researchers analyzed data from 28,184 racially and ethnically diverse children under 4 years old from families in 5 U.S. cities monitored by the Children’s HealthWatch network. Data were broken down by age: 0-12, 13-24, 25-36, and 37-48 months. Earlier studies examining food insecurity among children under 4 were not stratified by age, potentially masking developmental differences in young children’s experiences of food insecurity and susceptibility to growth issues. The new study finds that rates of obesity increase by children’s age, regardless of food insecurity, partially due to growing up in low-income communities and households that expose many very young children to obesity-promoting environmental factors, such as lack of access to healthy grocery stores, overabundance of fast food outlets, and increased screen time. Study authors said their findings support the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendation for food insecurity screening and referrals.

Editor’s note: The solicited commentary, “Food Insecurity during Early Childhood: Marker for Disparities in Healthy Growth and Development,” accompanies this study. This week’s Pediatrics releases also include two additional studies related to childhood food insecurity: "Food Insecurity and Healthcare Utilization,” and “Food Insecurity and Child Health.”

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The American Academy of Pediatrics is an organization of 67,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical subspecialists and pediatric surgical specialists dedicated to the health, safety and well-being of infants, children, adolescents and young adults. For more information, visit www.aap.org and follow us on Twitter @AmerAcadPeds