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How is ‘Food Insecurity’ linked to Childhood Weight Gain?

aa28ebf1-17e0-4ac4-b0a9-01963e6de8beBeing worried about not having enough food to feed one’s family, a situation called food insecurity, is common in low-income families. These families often are overweight, too.

The low-income mothers, who are currently experiencing food insecurity are more likely to worry that their children are eating too much food and tended to offer smaller portion sizes to their children than mothers not currently experiencing food insecurity. Mothers who are overweight are more than twice as likely to have overweight children than mothers who are not overweight.

“Understanding the reasons why poverty puts families at greater risk of obesity is essential to addressing the epidemic,” said study lead author Rachel Gross, MD, MS, FAAP, assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and The Children’s Hospital at Montefiore in New York.

Dr. Gross and her colleagues at the New York University School of Medicine and Bellevue Hospital Center, interviewed 201 low-income mothers with infants younger than 6 months about their feeding styles (whether they tried to control how much the child ate), feeding practices (e.g., breastfeeding, adding cereal to bottles) and concerns about their child becoming overweight. Studies have shown that feeding patterns leading to obesity often begin in infancy.

The mothers primarily were Hispanic, and all participated in the Special Supplemental Food Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC).

Results showed that about one-third of the mothers reported food insecurity.

“We found that food insecurity is related to controlling feeding practices, which have been shown to increase child obesity,” Dr. Gross said. “These controlling feeding practices involved both restriction, in which parents limit the infant’s intake even if the infant is hungry, and pressuring, in which the parent encourages the infant to eat more even if the infant is full.”

It is believed that when mothers control what an infant eats, it may disrupt the child’s ability to regulate his or her own hunger and fullness, leading to overeating and inappropriate weight gain, Dr. Gross explained.

Food-insecure mothers also were more concerned about their child becoming overweight than mothers who weren’t worried about having enough food for their families.

“This work suggests that in addition to addressing hunger and malnutrition, it is critical that policy efforts be made to work with food-insecure families to prevent the opposite problem – obesity,” Dr. Gross said. The study has been accepted for publication in Pediatrics.”

While excess weight is a concern across nearly all age levels,  the emergence of pediatric overweight at earlier childhood ages is of particular concern due to its association with type 2 diabetes and chronic disease risk. Rates of excess weight and obesity are higher within low-income populations. Paradoxically, this is the same socio-demographic group that is affected by food insecurity

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