Food Insecurity Among Children and Families

Is There a Relationship?

Seventeen million U.S. households are food insecure—without steady and dependable access to enough food to support active, healthy lives for all household members. Numerous studies have linked limited or uncertain access to adequate food to poorer nutritional, physical and mental health among adults and children. Although food insecurity and obesity would appear to be contradictory issues, there is growing concern that they are related.

This research synthesis finds little evidence of a direct link for children. It reviews studies examining the possible relationship between food insecurity and obesity in the United States, with a focus on children and families. It also examines studies on whether federal nutrition assistance programs play any role in increased risk of obesity among youths and adults.

“Food Insecurity and Risk for Obesity Among Children and Families: Is There a Relationship?” was prepared by Nicole Larson and Mary Story of Healthy Eating Research, a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Key results highlighted in the synthesis include:

  • Although a few studies have found that children living in food-insecure households are more likely to be obese than children who have adequate food access, most studies have found no evidence of a direct relationship.
  • Women who experience food insecurity are more likely to be obese than women who are food secure. But it is unclear whether food insecurity promotes weight gain over time. Research among men has not consistently shown a relationship between food insecurity and increased weight.
  • Research does not suggest that use of federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits promotes obesity among children.
  • Few studies have examined whether there is a relationship between participation in other food and nutrition assistance programs and risk for obesity in youths. However, there is little evidence that participation in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), the National School Lunch Program or the School Breakfast Program increases risk for obesity.