Food Insecurity Increases the Odds of Obesity Among Young Hispanic Children


Obesity is a growing public health concern and is more prevalent among low-income and minority populations. Food insecurity may increase the odds of obesity in children. We investigated the association between food insecurity and obesity among low-income, Hispanic, mother–child dyads (n = 74). The United States Department of Agriculture 18-item Household Food Security Survey was used to determine food security status. The majority of households were food insecure (74 %) and one-third (30 %) of children were obese. Food insecurity increased the odds of childhood obesity (OR 10.2; 95 % CI 1.2, 85.5) with stronger associations found within households where mothers were also overweight/obese compared to normal weight (p-for interaction < 0.05). Rates of household food insecurity and childhood obesity were high among this low-income Hispanic sample. Future studies should elucidate the mechanisms through which food insecurity impacts childhood obesity.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. 1.

    Clinical guidelines on the identification, evaluation, and treatment of overweight and obesity in adults. Executive summary. National Institutes of Health, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, June 1998.

  2. 2.

    Flegal KM, Carroll MD, Kit BK, Ogden CL. Prevalence of obesity and trends in the distribution of body mass index among U.S. adults, 1999–2010. JAMA. 2012;307:491–7.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  3. 3.

    Obesity and Overweight for Professionals: Data and Statistics: Facts—DNPAO–CDC. (n.d.). Centers for disease control and prevention. Accessed 15 March 2015.

  4. 4.

    May AL, Freedman D, Sherry B, Blanck HM, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Obesity—United States, 1999–2010. MMWR Surveill Summ. 2013;62(3):120–8.

    Google Scholar 

  5. 5.

    Shrestha LB, Heisler EJ. The changing demographic profile of the United States. Congressional Research Service. March 31, 2011. Accessed 15 March 2015.

  6. 6.

    Ogden CL, Carroll MD, Kit BK, Flegal KM. Prevalence of obesity and trends in body mass index among U.S. children and adolescents, 1999–2010. JAMA. 2012;307(5):483–90.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  7. 7.

    Ogden CL, Carroll MD, Kit BK, Flegal KM. Prevalence of childhood and adult obesity in the United States, 2011–2012. JAMA. 2014;311(8):806–14.

    CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  8. 8.

    Coleman-Jensen A, Nord M, Andrews M, Carlson S. Household food security in the United States in 2011. Economic Research Service. Accessed 15 March 2015.

  9. 9.

    Food Security in the U.S: Measurement. USDA Economic Research Services. Accessed 15 March 2015.

  10. 10.

    Cook JT, Frank DA, Berkowitz C, Black MM, Casey PH, Cutts DB, Meyers AF, Zaldivar N, Skalicky A, Levenson S, Heeren TC, Nord M. Food insecurity is associated with adverse health outcomes among human infants and toddlers. J Nutr. 2004;134(6):1432–8.

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  11. 11.

    Holben DH, Pheley AM. Diabetes risk and obesity in food-insecure households in rural Appalachian Ohio. Prev Chronic Dis. 2006;3(3):A82.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  12. 12.

    Seligman HK, Laraia BA, Kushel MB. Food insecurity is associated with chronic disease among low-income NHANES participants. J Nutr. 2010;140(2):304–10.

    CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  13. 13.

    Dietz WH. Does hunger cause obesity? Pediatrics. 1995;95(5):766–7.

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  14. 14.

    Dinour LM, Bergen D, Yeh MC. The food insecurity–obesity paradox: a review of the literature and the role food stamps may play. J Am Diet Assoc. 2007;107(11):1952–61.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  15. 15.

    Drewnowski A, Specter S. Poverty and obesity: the role of energy density and energy costs. Am J Clin Nutr. 2004;79:6–16.

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  16. 16.

    Franklin B, Jones A, Love D, Puckett S, Macklin J, White-Means S. Exploring mediators of food insecurity and obesity: a review of the recent literature. J Community Health. 2012;37(1):253–64.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  17. 17.

    Kuku O, Garasky S, Gundersen C. The relationship between childhood obesity and food insecurity: a nonparametric analysis. Appl Econ. 2012;44(21):2667–77.

    Google Scholar 

  18. 18.

    Isanaka S, Mora-Plazas M, Lopez-Arana S, Baylin A, Villamor E. Food insecurity is highly prevalent and predicts underweight but not overweight in adults and school children from Bogota, Colombia. J Nutr. 2007;137(12):2747–55.

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  19. 19.

    Adams EJ, Grummer-Strawn L, Chavez G. Food insecurity is associated with increased risk of obesity in California women. J Nutr. 2003;133:1070–4.

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  20. 20.

    Leung CW, Williams DR, Villamor E. Very low food security predicts obesity predominantly in California Hispanic men and women. Public Health Nutr. 2012;1(1):1–9.

    Google Scholar 

  21. 21.

    Pan L, Sherry B, Njai R, Blanck HM. Food insecurity is associated with obesity among US adults in 12 states. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2012;112(9):1403–9.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  22. 22.

    Martin MA, Lippert AM. Feeding her children, but risking her health: the intersection of gender, household food insecurity and obesity. Soc Sci Med. 2012;74:1754–64.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  23. 23.

    Townsend MS, Peerson J, Love B, Achterberg C, Murphy SP. Food insecurity is positively related to overweight in women. J Nutr. 2001;131(6):1738–45.

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  24. 24.

    Gundersen C, Garasky S, Lohman BJ. Food insecurity is not associated with childhood obesity as assessed using multiple measures of obesity. J Nutr. 2009;139(6):1173–8.

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  25. 25.

    Jyoti DF, Frongillo EA, Jones SJ. Food insecurity affects school children’s academic performance, weight gain, and social skills. J Nutr. 2005;135(12):2831–9.

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  26. 26.

    Dubois L, Farmer A, Girard M, Porcherie M. Family food insufficiency is related to overweight among preschoolers. Soc Sci Med. 2006;63(6):1503–16.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  27. 27.

    Rose D, Bodor JN. Household food insecurity and overweight status in young school children: results from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study. Pediatrics. 2006;117(2):464–73.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  28. 28.

    Metallinos-Katsaras E, Must A, Gorman K. A longitudinal study of food insecurity on obesity in preschool children. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2012;112(12):1949–58.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  29. 29.

    National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Body mass index-for-age. BMI is used differently with children than it is with adults. Accessed 15 March 2015.

  30. 30.

    Federal Poverty Guidelines. Families USA: the voice for health care consumers. Accessed 15 March 2015.

  31. 31.

    Fallah-Fini S, Rahmandad H, Huang TK, Bures RM, Glass TA. Modeling US adult obesity trends: a system dynamics model for estimating energy imbalance gap. Am J Public Health. 2014;104(7):1230–9.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  32. 32.

    Thorsdottir I, Birgisdottir BE. Different weight gain in women of normal weight before pregnancy: postpartum weight and birth weight. Obstet Gynecol. 1998;92:377–83.

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  33. 33.

    Cheung W. The relationship between weight gain in pregnancy, birth-weight and postpartum weight retention. Aust N Z J Obstet Gynaecol. 1998;38:176–9.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  34. 34.

    Gore SA, Brown DM, West DS. The role of postpartum weight retention in obesity among women: a review of the evidence. Ann Behav Med. 2003;26(2):149–59.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  35. 35.

    Borre K, Ertle L, Graff M. Working to eat: vulnerability, food insecurity, and obesity among migrant and seasonal farmworker families. Am J Ind Med. 2010;53(4):443–62.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  36. 36.

    Hill BG, Moloney AG, Mize T, Himelick T, Guest JL. Prevalence and predictors of food insecurity in migrant farmworkers in Georgia. Am J Public Health. 2011;101(5):831–3.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  37. 37.

    Kasper J, Gupta SK, Tran P, Cook JT, Meyers AF. Hunger in legal immigrants in California, Texas, and Illinois. Am J Public Health. 2000;90:1629–33.

    CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  38. 38.

    Rosas LG, Guendelman S, Harley K, Fernald LC, Neufeld L, Mejia F, Eskenazi B. Factors associated with overweight and obesity among children of Mexican descent: results of a binational study. J Immigr Minor Health. 2011;13(1):169–80.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  39. 39.

    Whitaker RC, Deeks CM, Baughcum AE, Specker BL. The relationship of childhood adiposity to parent body mass index and eating behavior. Obes Res. 2000;8(3):234–40.

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  40. 40.

    Zhang Q, Lamichhane R, Chen H, Xue H-J, Wang Y. Does child–parent resemblance in body weight status vary by sociodemographic factors in the USA? J Epidemiol Community Health. 2014;68(11):1034–42.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  41. 41.

    Gross RS, Mendelsohn AL, Fierman AH, Racine AD, Messito MJ. Food insecurity and obesogenic maternal infant feeding styles and practices in low-income families. Pediatrics. 2012;130(2):254–61.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

Download references


The authors wish to thank Lakshmi Somasundaram and Olivia Cosides for assistance in collecting and compiling the data and the staff at La Comunidad Hispana for allowing us to use their facility and aiding the collection of data used for this study. We also would like to thank all the mother and child study participants; without their participation none of this would be possible.

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Mia A. Papas.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Papas, M.A., Trabulsi, J.C., Dahl, A. et al. Food Insecurity Increases the Odds of Obesity Among Young Hispanic Children. J Immigrant Minority Health 18, 1046–1052 (2016).

Download citation


  • Food insecurity
  • Childhood obesity
  • Hispanic
  • Maternal and child health