Feeding Her Children, But Risking Her Health

The Intersection of Gender, Household Food Insecurity and Obesity

Obesity research consistently does not observe a strong, negative correlation in the United States between income and obesity among men, but does among women. This study examines this negative correlation, positing that a significant factor is the gendered role of mother. The study characterizes the differences in weight related to food insecurity as differences between mothers and non-mothers, not men and women.

Data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) was used to examine the 1999–2003 waves. The final sample included 7,931 men and women of childrearing age who were household heads or partners.

Key Findings:

  • Food insecure mothers are more likely to be overweight and obese than their food insecure, but child-free female counterparts.
  • Food insecure fathers are not at a greater risk of being overweight or obese.
  • Single mothers are at a greater risk of experiencing food insecurity as compared to married or cohabitating mothers.
  • Further analyses show these risks are not a result of metabolic changes associated with pregnancy, nor diminish with self-reported physical activity, smoking, drinking, food stamps and Women, Infants and Children (WIC) nutritional program participation.

This study demonstrates the connection between overweight and obesity and food insecurity. The study does not include immigrant populations. Future research should expand the portion of the population studied.