Food Insecurity and Childhood Obesity: A Systematic Review

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Journal Article

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BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVES: Addressing food insecurity while promoting healthy body weights among children is a major public health challenge. Our objective is to examine longitudinal associations between food insecurity and obesity in US children aged 1 to 19 years. METHODS: Sources for this research include PubMed, CINAHL, and Scopus databases (January 2000 to February 2022). We included English language studies that examined food insecurity as a predictor of obesity or increased weight gain. We excluded studies outside the United States and those that only considered the unadjusted relationship between food security and obesity. Characteristics extracted included study design, demographics, methods of food security assessment, and anthropometric outcomes. RESULTS: Literature searches identified 2272 articles; 13 met our inclusion criteria. Five studies investigated the relationship between food insecurity and obesity directly, whereas 12 examined its relationship with body mass index or body mass index z-score. Three studies assessed multiple outcomes. Overall, evidence of associations between food insecurity and obesity was mixed. There is evidence for possible associations between food insecurity and obesity or greater weight gain in early childhood, for girls, and for children experiencing food insecurity at multiple time points. Heterogeneity in study methods limited comparison across studies. CONCLUSIONS: Evidence is stronger for associations between food insecurity and obesity among specific subgroups than for children overall. Deeper understanding of the nuances of this relationship is critically needed to effectively intervene against childhood obesity.


Prevention and Community Health