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Food Insecurity Affects One in 10 Children in United States

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Food Insecurity Affects One in 10 Children in United States

About one in 10 children in the United States is affected by family food insecurity, according to new research published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) — a sign that many children may be at higher risk for health conditions like obesity and type 2 diabetes due to a lack of access to nutritious foods.

It’s difficult to definitively show a link between social factors like poverty and food insecurity and health outcomes like obesity and type 2 diabetes in children, since so many different factors affect the risk for these health conditions. Part of the reason why it may be difficult to demonstrate any such link is that there are nutrition assistance programs that aim to fill “nutrient gaps,” such as the National School Lunch Program and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), both of which are run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). But during school closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many low-income families experienced reduced access to school-provided meals — leading to worse nutritional outcomes, and highlighting the problem of food insecurity for children in general.

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Recent studies have shown, though, that food insecurity can make it more difficult for adults to lose weight even when they participate in a structured weight-loss program — presumably because it’s more difficult to afford the kinds of nutritious foods that can help with weight loss, or possibly also due to the effects of food insecurity on general psychological stress. Food insecurity may also make it more likely that people eat fast food, since they may not have enough money at any given time to buy ingredients ahead of time at a grocery store. Studies have shown that greater proximity to fast-food restaurants is linked to a higher risk for type 2 diabetes in adults, and many low-income adults with food insecurity live in neighborhoods with many largely unhealthy fast-food options.

Food insecurity widespread in households with children

The latest report from the CDC shows that in the period from 2019 to 2020, 10.8% of children ages 0-17 lived in households with for insecurity during the past 30 days. Children with disabilities were much more likely to live in a household with food insecurity — 19.3% of children with disabilities lived in such a household, compared with 9.8% of children without disabilities. When it came to race and ethnicity, food insecurity affected 18.8% of non-Hispanic Black children, 15.7% of Hispanic children, and 6.5% of non-Hispanic white children.

Other factors linked to food insecurity included the type of community where children lived. The rate of food insecurity was 13.2% for children in the center of a large metro area, but only 7.4% for children in the fringe of a large metro area. For children in medium to small metro areas, the rate of food insecurity was 10.5%, and for children in nonmetropolitan (mostly rural) areas, it was 12.9%. Family characteristics also made a big difference — children who lived with one parent and no other adults experienced food insecurity at a rate of 19.9%, while children in other household structures had a rate of only 7.7%. For households with fewer than three children, the rate of food insecurity was 9.4%, while it was 13.0% for households with three or more children.

“Access to sufficient and nutritious food is a key social determinant of health,” the report authors noted. “Information that characterizes disparities in food insecurity may help target interventions to reduce these disparities and promote positive child health outcomes.”

Want to learn more about eating well with diabetes? Read “Strategies for Healthy Eating,” “Improving Your Recipes: One Step at a Time,” and “What Is the Best Diet for Diabetes?”

Quinn Phillips

Quinn Phillips

Quinn Phillips on social media

A freelance health writer and editor based in Wisconsin, Phillips has a degree from Harvard University. He is a former Editorial Assistant for Diabetes Self-Management and has years of experience covering diabetes and related health conditions. Phillips writes on a variety of topics, but is especially interested in the intersection of health and public policy.

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